A newsletter for Bistre East Ward residents
From Cllr. Arnold Woolley, DipIM, MCMI
(Member of the Independent Alliance Group)


Please do take the time to read through my observations.
They are intended to keep you, the ratepayers and voters
of the Town and County, up to date on current affairs.


August 2015

1. General

This latest newsletter is a dozen pages in length. I do have a thought that I should be apologizing for that, but then I reflect on the fact and my own belief, that a councillor’s first duty is to keep his or her ward residents well-informed about local government affairs that do or will affect them and then pitch in perhaps an odd or intriguing piece of news that might just have slipped your notice amid the constant flurry of information that bombards each and every one of us at every turn. The only advice I can give is that you do not try to read it all in one go, please. Much better to break the reading down into shorter, more manageable sessions, such as when the adverts are on in the TV programmes.

2. What’s Going On in Buckley?
(1) Parking Charges: Nominally, these are supposed to come into effect on 1st September, 2015. However, your Town Council, of which I am of course a member, has, as part of the public consultation, which formally closed on 16th July, 2015, put forward a proposal to the Administration at County Hall, that if they are able to provide us with some well-evidenced figures of what annual profit they expect to make from car parking charges in Buckley, the town council will consider consulting with the population of the town, over a simple question, along the lines of:- “Are you happy for the town council to include that particular profit figure within the town council precept, which every household pays, in order to keep Buckley free from car parking charges?”

We started asking the county council about this possibility way back in April, but, as is so often the way, the response from Flintshire has been less than rapid. Never-the-less, in my view, it would have been unreasonable of the county to impose parking charges on our town without first dealing fully with our seriously put offer.


Incidentally, for those of you who read The Telegraph each day, you may have noticed an article on the front page of the edition on Saturday, 18th July, 2015, where Marcus Jones, the recently appointed Westminster Minister for High Streets went on record as advocating meter-free zones to attract shoppers to our highstreets in order to boost retail sales and the survival of high street shops. He applauded Cardigan Town Council for seeking to do away for good with the county council owned parking meters on the four major car parks in the town, after they were all vandalised and put out of action, which resulted in improved footfall and profitability for the town’s shops. Cardigan Town traders may be able to enjoy some relief over the summer, but Ceredigion Council intends to replace the parking ticket machines in September, despite the evidence of increased turnover for shops in the town. The Minister went on to say that the government in England intended to stop councils regarding motorists as “cash cows.” The article had him quoted as saying that, “The law clearly states that parking fees should not be used as a way of generating revenue.” Well, that is the other side of the border, over in England. Here we have devolution and our county council is doing just the opposite, solely in order to generate revenue.

Worse still, as you may have read in the local newspapers at the end of July, Flintshire County Council has now flatly refused to even talk to us about the alternative proposals that we put forward, in an attempt to try to keep Buckley free from car parking charges. So much for two-way communication and working together.


(2) The New Medical Centre

Traffic & Transport: The service provided once attendees actually get inside the building seems to be drawing nothing but praise, which is splendid, however getting there in safety, other than on foot, is another matter. The county council’s transport office has granted a new contract for the Buckley shopper-hopper (The 21A & B items, which were being run very well run on a temporary basis by P.O. Lloyd’s) to D. H. Hutchinson, as of 1st August, 2015, with a revised route to include the new medical centre. Since you will certainly be reading this after that date you will know by then whether that new contract, new timetables and routes has or has not come about and whether or not it is proving successful. Fingers crossed that it will!

Staying in that new medical centre locality and remaining with the theme of transport, what we local folks, town councillors and others, warned about has come to pass. Us locals, to a person I suspect, told the county council’s planning department and the highways officers, that the off-set crossroads formed by Liverpool Road, Higher Common Road and Altami Road, would not carry the increased traffic created by the new medical centre, without accidents arising. That was, of course, before planners gave permission for two further housing estates, yet to be built, on Altami Road, proximate to the new medical centre.


Our concerns were waived aside, somewhat dismissively if you were to ask me. However, over recent weeks, there have been a dozen or more vehicle collisions at that crossroads. Thankfully, the accidents have caused little or no damage to people so far, but something needs to be done and done quickly, before some serious injury does arise. To that end, I have asked your town council at its meeting on 28th July, to discuss the problem and hopefully ask county highways officers to look again at the area, including the junction formed by Hawkesbury Road and the Elfed complex entrance with Liverpool Road.


Again, by the time you read this, the town council meeting will have taken place passed and you will no doubt have read the results and any recommendations made, in the local newspapers. Some highways re-structuring is badly needed there. We can only hope that county officers do not simply shrug their shoulders, murmur, “There’s no money!” and walk away. It is positive action that is needed, pronto.


(3) The Aldi Store.

The frame-work is there for all to see and the brick and ground work appears to be coming along nicely, with little disruption to our town’s normal routines, give or take some come-and-go traffic lights and perhaps too much mud temporarily on our roads. Small prices to pay for something we have all waited so long to see, a second major retailer in the town centre. More interestingly perhaps, a provisional opening date of Thursday, 3rd December, 2015, has now been indicated. That may stand, or it may be adjusted as the weeks move along.


(4) Iceland Store.

No completion date yet for the expansion that is now under way, but another item of good news for the town.

(5) Costa Coffee Shop.

Looking at my county council computer on 15th July, I found on the screen an email notification of the approval of the recent planning application for a Costa Coffee shop, to be developed in The Precinct, in the units where Parish’s Florist and Greengrocery shop existed for many years, before retirements brought about its closure. As with other items above, there is no opening date set as yet, but, as time is money in retail terms, I suspect the franchisees will not dawdle in getting the coffee shop up and

running. No doubt some will welcome the new franchised item, while others will think of heavyweight cups and high prices and keep on going where they have gone, very contentedly, for many years.

6) The Flintshire Connects Facility.

This facility, originally intended, as long as two years back, to be permanently located in the old library rooms at Buckley Town Hall, opened for business on Monday, 6th July, within the building of the present library close by The Precinct. Worse still, it is based largely on the first floor, rather than totally at ground floor level, although a lift does exist for those who find the stairs insurmountable. With that opening, on Friday, 3rd July, the old Cash Office, based for many years within the Town Hall building, closed. The idea of the new facility is that residents should be able to access all county council services, via digital (Computerised!) linkage.


The staff from the old cash office have re-located to be available to assist anyone having difficulties in making payments of all sorts or getting answers to questions of all sorts. I am aware, from complaints to me over the past couple of weeks, that, at the time of writing this newsletter, some teething problems have been encountered by residents wishing to make payments, etc. Those I have represented upwards so that the service available can be improved. If, by the time you read this newsletter, you, or any members of your family are still having problems, such as finding no staff available to welcome and assist you, please let me know, so that the facility can be steadily improved, until it delivers the high quality of service that county wishes to deliver and Buckley’s residents deserve.

Remember folks that according to the words from county council officers, the positioning of this item in the library is a temporary solution to the problem of providing a “Connects” facility in Buckley. Just how temporary it will prove to be, only time will tell. Writing with my town councillor’s hat on, all I can record is that the town council, acting in good faith, held the intended original location vacant for two years, thus losing out on rental income of better than £10,000. We are now left with those empty offices, with assorted holes in assorted floors, needing restoration and letting out, if possible.

You may take it that there is a dialogue now ongoing between your town and your county council, relating to compensation for loss of rental income. Just how amicably, or acrimoniously, that dialogue might develop, is something only time will tell. Watch this space, so to speak!


(7) The Old Buckley Baths Building.

As I noted in my April newsletter, residents keep asking me – and I presume other councillors too – what is happening with the Old Buckley Baths Building. On behalf of those who have inquired, I have asked a couple of the councillors; those who are Trustees of that charitable activity, what the current state of progress is. The best information I can set down here is that as of time of writing this newsletter, the remaining three Trustees are looking to expand the Board and especially for somebody with fund-raising and project management skills in order to get the enterprise moving along. Given the tightening of charitable funding streams and the known difficulties of getting funds out of the State Lottery nowadays, all we bye-standers can do is to wish them luck and stay hopeful of a positive outcome that will preserve the building and provide the multi-functional community hall that the town badly needs.


(8) The Site of the Disused Precinct Medical Centre.

There is some considerable interest in what is to become of the now dis-used medical centre that used to house the Roseneath and Bradley medical practices. Fortunately for Buckley, Grwp Cynefin, a social landlord has begun to take an interest in the site. They have come forward with initial proposals for a ground and first floor building designed to provide 22 one and two-bedroomed apartments.

There is a wee bit of discussion going on about whether the accommodation should be reserved for Older People, or be reserved for younger single people and couples. County Council’s planning officers are claiming greater need exists for accommodation for younger persons, single or couples, while more local voices are talking of an even greater need for downsized accommodation for Older People, with or without any Warden support.

It is very early days yet, but, at least a developer has come forward with workable proposals and some artists impressions, which, we hope will lead to a detailed planning application and a completed project in the fullness of time.

(9) Community Asset Transfer Proposals and “ADMs”.

For those of you who have been following this Community Asset Transfer policy, you may well wonder now just what the “ADMs” bit is all about. Well, at a workshop at county hall in July, those limited number of us councillors who bothered to attend discovered that whereas last year’s buzz-words were “Community Asset Transfer, somebody in a back-office, near or far, has suddenly decided that ”ADMs” are far better.
The “ADMs” acronym expands into “Alternative Delivery Methods.” That is a system whereby county councils decide to create one or more different types of entity to deliver the services they deliver presently by the traditional method of employing people, supervising, managing and directing them and, hopefully, delivering a reliable service, whichever, to residents, within Budget

So, last year, the county set about persuading Town and Community Councils and any interested Community Groups, to offer to transfer over to themselves such assets on the county council’s books as were liabilities, i.e., not making money, but purely being a cost to ratepayers and the county.

That list of assets on offer included Play Areas, Sports Grounds, Recreation Centres, Swimming Pools and Community Halls. Each to be taken over on 27 year leases and to be run and operated by Trustee Boards or Management Committees, formed from willing volunteers within the communities involved.
The county council engaged Flintshire Local Voluntary Council to assist interested parties in formulating Business Plans and submitting them for consideration to FCC.

The issue of how non-fee-earning items, such as play areas and skate-board parks were to earn the incomes needed for maintenance, replacement of worn out equipment and public liability insurance was left open for consideration..
Buckley Town Council, via a working party, looked at the 15 items on offer within our boundary and swiftly decided that a) There was far too little past financial performance information coming forward, despite repeated requests, b) There were no current structural condition surveys available for the buildings.. On the scant information provided to us, it would appear your Town Council would have needed to have increased the Town Precept by 350 to 400%, which we have no intention of doing; at least not before a detailed referendum of residents on the subject.

Presently, we are trying to ascertain whether or not The Football club might wish to take on the football ground, whether the Cricket Club might wish to take on the cricket ground and so forth, possibly under a Buckley-wide umbrella Trust created purely to handle this Community Asset Transfer issue.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, oops, sorry, I mean at County Hall, the recent Alternative Delivery Method proposals are looking towards the county re-shaping itself and its services, to see them, perhaps, delivered by:-
1) Collaboration: “Informal collaboration and/or sharing of service delivery between two or more partners, e.g. Federations of Schools, which could include more specific forms, such as consortia.”
2) Shared Services: “Formal Sharing of Service, between two or more partners with a designated host organisation, e.g., Flintshire & Denbighshire Procurement Unit, including specific governance models, such as Joint Committees.”
3) An Independent Trading Company: “Delivery of the service by a company that could be partly or wholly owned by a Council or Councils, e.g. N.E.W. Homes.”
4) A TECKAL Company “Company that is wholly-owned by the Local Authority, which has the ability to trade to a limited degree with others,
e.g.,the Shropshire Trading Company.”
5) A Mutual: “A company or society that is owned by and/or provides specific benefits for its staff, e.g., Health/Social Care Mutual.”
6) A Co-operative: “A company or society that is owned jointly by a number of interested parties (Members) and acts in the interests of those members, for example staff, users or community organisations, e.g., Knowsley Youth Mutual.”
7) A Social Enterprise: “A company or society that re-invests its traded profits in its social purpose, e.g., Flintshire Social Enterprise.”
8) Community Asset Transfer: See (9) on P6 above. Enough said about that one there!
9) Joint Venture: “The delivery of a service by two or more partners, where they retain their identity, but either have a formal legal agreement or a special purpose vehicle that identifies roles and how benefits and profits are shared, e.g., Housing SPV.”
10) Procurement: “The procurement of a service to an external organisation increasingly considering more innovative ways of procuring the service, e.g., SHARP.
I shall not burden you with the explanations of the alleged “Benefits” of each of the above, merely record that each is designed to deliver a particular service, let us say Housing Repairs, Social Services Home Care, Refuse & Recycling Collection, Planning Development, at less than current cost to county council, because, with the dwindling funding from Cardiff and increasing demand, “Business as Usual” is simply not possible, so change there has to be. To just what shape, only time – and maybe next year’s Welsh Assembly elections, will tell.


Flintshire - Fundings and Frightenings

Perhaps sadly for us all in this county, Flintshire has always punched above its weight in terms of income, employment and manufacturing activity. It may be that because of that, a perceived picture of affluence exists in the minds of the decision-makers in Cardiff. Whatever the reason, this county has, for years, been one of the worst resourced in terms of financial support from the Wales Government. Without boring you to tears with figures, there is something in the order of a £2,000 per head difference between what the WAG provides to Flintshire and what it provides to the best funded local authorities, by way of the annual rates support grant, which deals with our revenue funding costs. When I was Leader of the county, responsible for the Finance Portfolio, I had to struggle with that and, since the present Labour-controlled administration took over in 2012, the growing lack of funding from the WAG has only made matters worse.

Experience has taught me that it is an easy route to disaster if decisions are made and implemented, without first investigating, analysing andweighing-up, on the benefit for people and value for money scales, the effect of those decisions. Regrettably, in their short-sighted determination to live the easy financial life themselves, by buying up an airport, borrowing money to drive roads through environmentally sensitive areas and expanding their own activities, the WAG has, in the truest traditions of bad management, utterly failed to assess the impact of the cutting of revenue funding to councils, especially those few, which includes Flintshire, which are less well-funded than others.

If there is no improvement in coming months, in the level of revenue funding, provided by the WAG, Flintshire will need to cut back its annual spending in 2016-17 by £18Million or so. That will not be for just one difficult year, with return to normal thereafter. Flintshire’s projected/forecast revenue spend on services, across the board, would stay at the reduced level, year on year into the future.

That low level of expenditure might, I repeat might, be improved, just a little, if any of the Alternative Delivery Methods, listed on pages 5 & 6 above, were to be brought about and were to be immediately successful, which is unlikely in practical terms. It might, repeat, might, also be assisted if there is any take-up of the Community Asset Transfer options offered to community councils and others, as per 8) on page 7. Currently very little interest is being shown – and rightly so.
Given all of that, the county, no matter who is in charge politically, cannot sit about and wait to see if Leighton Andrews’ plans to wedge us in with Wrexham do come about, for that move would likely not occur before 2018-19
at the earliest, whereas our foreseeable shortage of cash exists right now as we prepare our Budget for the 2016-17 financial year.
The county’s Medium Term Financial Plan has had to be adjusted to a Medium Term Financial Forecast, simply because we have no firm basis upon which to build any certain or guaranteed plan. That is not the way it should be and nobody is to blame except the Welsh Government.

So, folks, keep an eye open because cut-backs in service delivery will affect you.

4. Beyond Flintshire.

If ever there was a prize for muddled meddling, our present Minister for Local Government, Leighton Andrews, AM, with his present proposals for the Re-organisation of Local Government in Wales plans, would have to be a fancied contender. In 2008, the then Minister, Dr. Brian Gibbons, told leaders that while he did not feel then any need to look to re-organisation, we needed to shed something in the order of 16-20,000 employees, in order to make local government in Wales affordable. Since then, no great dwindling of employee numbers has been seen, so staff costs have stayed pretty well where they were in cost terms. Now, with even more financial constraint coming down the line by way of the “Austerity Plans” of George Osborne in Westminster, it looks like our Minister is intent on cutting the 22 Unitary Authorities in Wales down to 8 or maybe 9 and in so doing, reducing the number of employees sufficiently to save £Millions per year in wages costs, plus another handful of £Millions by nearly halving the numbers of councillors.

The problem is that when those previous 8 large counties existed, prior to 1996, they had, below them the “District Councils” ( Remember Alyn & Deeside and Delyn?) as well as the Town & Community Councils, so there was a great deal of “localism” and contact between local residents and their local councillors at one level or another.

Leighton’s grand plan would take us back to the old, large, councils, without having any District Councils in the set-up. To compensate for that, he is also calling for changes to Town and Community Council boundaries and for the “clustering” of smaller councils either into, or under the umbrella of, whatever large council might happen to be nearest to them. For instance, in this area, Mynydd Isa community council (Argoed) might have to decide whether to fall under Mold, or under Buckley. Buckley might end up taking over Penyffordd community. Nearby, Hawarden, Broughton, Garden City and Saltney might have to draw straws to see who takes over who, or maybe agree to fall in under Shotton. What dear Leighton seems to envisage is that those enlarged or clustered councils would receive more powers, to enable them to undertake a whole lot of the service delivery currently delivered by their county council. Mind you, he has not yet, to the best of my knowledge, said anything about additional funding to go with those increased powers and responsibilities.


I suspect he believes that those future enlarged and empowered Town and Community councils will be left to raise the funds they would need to carry out, let us say, street cleaning and refuse collection, and pay the staff involved, by simply raising their own precepts by whatever sum might be needed to cover costs of staff and material resources. That would not be linked in to any reduction in Community Charge levied by the enlarged county authorities, so you and I, folks, would likely be on the receiving end of a “Double Rating Hit” which would very swiftly become a pain in our pockets.

While nobody wishes to see people cast out of work, it has to be admitted that in 2008 and even now, Wales has more local government employees as a percentage of total workforce, than anywhere on mainland UK. I use the phrase “Mainland UK” because, right across the UK, something like 19.4% of the adult workforce is employed by local government. Here in Wales, that figure rises to about 25.7%, which does tend to suggest Wales is a bit overstaffed with local government employees. Only Northern Ireland beats Wales, with 27.7%.

The Minister also refuses to come across with any clear indication of what job(s) he believes the 15-16,000 redundant local government employees would move into in order to keep house, home and family functioning. There is little saving to be had by the Wales Government’s finance department, if any lessening salary cost is lost to rising welfare bills.
I am prepared to bet that no qualified and soundly-thinking manager would ever consider re-organising the county level structures until they had first sorted out the underlying structures, powers, responsibilities and funding streams for the town and community councils intended to be below them and at least had some idea of how to avoid simply adding some 15-16,000 people on to the unemployment numbers.


5. Way Beyond Flintshire.

For those of you who keep an eye on what the elected European Parliament and the unelected European Commission get up to, you may or may not have noticed that those unelected Commissioners, the 8 “Appointees” who appear to really run the European circus, have slapped a £642 Million fine on the UK, for allegedly failing to properly administer and account for EU farm
subsidy payments.
Coming from the very bunch who have been severely criticised by the European Court of Auditors, which has, annually, refused to
give them a clean bill of financial health for the last 19 or 20 consecutive years that really is a classic example of staggering hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, at the lower, elected level, of the parliament, that membership has voted, in the face of fierce lobbying from the likes of Bayer, Syngentia, Dow and the other chemical manufacturing giants, to maintain the past two year moratorium on the use of the neonicotinoid herbicides which have been, with good scientific reason, linked to the serious decline in bee and other pollinator colonies all over the world.

I know it is an unscientific observation, without learned papers and peer reviews, but European Beekeepers have reported a 20% increase in bee and other pollinator populations since the moratorium started.

Meanwhile, back in the world of allegedly caring conservatism, our own government in Westminster managed to tack a sneaky little paragraph on to an otherwise routine enactment passed on the last day before the summer break, which temporarily lifts the ban on certain neonicotinoids. NFU 1, Bees and the Environment, Nil.


5. Way Beyond Belief (In more ways than One!)

Residents all over the UK are now likely to think about calling all elected councillors, “The Ungodly.” That is because The Secular Society recently decided to legally challenge the rights and wrongs of starting council deliberations with “Prayers” as has been the habit for one heck of a long time. The ruling that came from the learned judges was that prayers, per se, were not a formal part of the local government structures and procedures and therefore should no longer be included in any formal agenda wording. I am not going to argue the issues of religion and belief or disbelief in this newsletter.

I recall “Assembly” at the start of my school days, all too many years ago. Those of broadly Christian faiths attended, while those of other faiths simply waited outside of the school hall until prayers were over and then came in, in time to hear the day’s administrative announcements. Here in Flintshire, one councillor has, ever since I have been an elected member, quietly waited outside of the chamber until prayers have ended and then come on in. There’s nothing wrong with that as far as I am concerned.
So, local government councils at all levels and all over the UK have immediately made a delicate adjustment to procedures, in order to comply with the latest ruling at law. Mayor, or Chairman, now enters the chamber, with his or her deputies, senior officers, scribes and chaplain. Prayers are said and only then is the meeting declared officially open and begun.

My bet is that most people who might get to be in the public gallery, at whichever council meeting they might attend, will never even know that any change has taken place.



6. It was Bound To Happen


Readers may recall that in my April newsletter, I mentioned the rapid rise, world-wide, of the so-called “The Plug-And-Play Workforce.” That is those “workers” and not necessarily “employees” who get connected with “customers” using the latest electronic gadgetry and pay a commission out of their “earnings” to the likes of organisations such as Airbnb, Uber and Homejoy. which organisations actually employ nobody, despite having multi-million $ turnovers annually.

Well, in the USA and in the UK, legal challenges are now cropping up. For example, in London, Uber, the car-hire/taxi organiser, is presently being legally challenged by the GMB union, via the law firm of LeighDay, over its claim that its drivers are “partners” and not employees. The union says Uber is breaching its duty on pay, holidays and health and safety. In response, the firm says making drivers employees would mean losing their flexibility, which makes the job appealing.

Nigel Mackay from the law firm believes the legal action could result in "substantial pay outs" for drivers: "We believe that it's clear from the way Uber operates that it owes the same responsibilities towards its drivers as any other employer does to its workers," he said. “In particular, its drivers should not be denied the right to the minimum wage and paid holidays.”

7. Well Done, Elfed School!.

For those of you who may have missed it, the 3rd August edition of the Daily Post carried, for the third year, a number of pages of information entitled, “The Real School Guide.” Using 23 different measures to compare 213 state-funded secondary schools, the guide has been commented upon favourable by educationalists and commentators alike and is a useful tool for parents.

Elfed High School was listed, very creditably, as 1st in Flintshire, 4th in North Wales and 9th out of the total of 213 state-funded secondary schools in Wales. The school came out ahead of other local state-funded secondary schools, such as Mold Alun, (4th locally and 44th nationally) Argoed, (2nd locally and 13th nationally) and Maes Garmon, (9th locally and 130th nationally).
Head Teachers, their staff, the students and the school governors all deserve a well-earned pat on the back, especially those at Elfed.


Please remember folks that I am here to keep you well informed and help you if you have problems. My phone is never off the hook and my email is always there for your use.
(01244) 549421 and arnooldwoolley@outlook.com