Safe Hands or Butterfingers?

1. The Refuse Collection Blues.

S O R R Y !
That is the word I really do need to say to you all about the new Refuse and Recycling Collection arrangements that commenced on 7th November 2011. Please remember that the changes have been driven by European Union legislation demanding increased recycling, backed by the fact of a fine of £200 for every ton that we go over the top of our annual limit.

For those of you who were confused by the information, or were missed out on a collection round, or struggled to make telephone contact, I can only apologise. For the patience, courtesy and good manners with which many of you registered your upsets, with me and with the staff at county hall, I do sincerely thank you.

Fortunately, overall, our recycling tonnages have increased significantly over the past few months and our landfill tonnages have gone down. By now, all should be running smoothly. Remember also, that for anyone less than fully able to heave around the bins or boxes, we do have an “Assisted Collection List.” That help can be provided for a limited period, to assist with temporary illness or injury, or as a permanent arrangement, should that be needed as the ageing process takes its assorted toll of our physical abilities over the years. If you need it, please phone (013352) 703350.

Finally, if you are still encountering problems with the collection of your refuse and recyclables, please let me know. I am available on (01352) 702108, in office hours, or (01244) 549421at other times, or try my email addresses of or

Remember, please, that you are not a nuisance if you complain about poor performance over something, be it refuse collection or any other service that the county council goofs off over. All of us county councillors depend upon you residents to tell us when matters are not right, so that we can see that they are put right.

2. A Four Letter Word

Not the usually accepted foul language this time, but possibly more damaging, both to individuals, to families and the nation. That word is “Debt.” I know, I am just an old fogey who vividly remembers the days when employees were paid in cash. That cash had to stretch to the next payday because nobody wished to go “into debt.”

Shortly after the Second World War, over in New York, in the USA a significant businessman named McNamara started something that caught on rapidly. He invented “The Credit Card,” as we know it today. At a stroke of genius, or stupidity, he, no doubt totally innocently, converted “Debt” into “Credit”, immediately removing the stabilizing concern about being in debt.

The Credit Card rapidly became a convenience on such a magnificently attractive scale that everyone went along for the ride. It rapidly turned into an invitation to spend money we had not yet earned, did not have and were unlikely to ever have. It helped post World War II “Consumerism” to flourish, financial institutions to blossom and economies to boom.
It has now reached the stage where millions of people personally owe far more than they can ever repay, even if they remain working for the rest of their lives. The number of people, in the UK and abroad, who, month by month, simply repay the interest on their personal credit card, is rising fast.

A fair question might be, “Why did Governments all over the world let it happen?” For the answer, read on…..

3. Financial Prudence

I have been telling you, for some years, that UK plc is bust. Technically, so my financially astute friends tell me, we went bust in 1976, under Jim Callaghan’s Government of the time, when our level of National Debt reached 6%.
Today, if you grope your way through the National Statistics, you can find out that, last year, our UK Debt level reached £15,578 for every man woman and child in the nation. That equals about £34,005 for every working person in the UK. Oh, by the way, those figures are just to repay the interest on the National Debt for the year. That is because the total amount of our accumulated national “borrowings” over the years has now reached over £1Trillion. That is around 11% of our Gross Domestic Product for the year, or, in plain language, what we were worth last year. Incidentally, that debt figure actually rose by £168Billion in 2011 under the present UK Coalition Government. All that while sound financial prudence dictates - and has done for ages – that nations should not borrow more than 3% of their GDP!

How come we got ourselves into such a mess? Well, the answer is simple. The objective of actually balancing any national budget seems to have vanished a few hundred years ago. That was somewhere around 1694 when the then UK Government borrowed over £1Million to finance the 9 Year’s War. Money borrowed from the then newly formed Bank of England at 8% interest. A nice little earner for the investors! By the time the 1st World War ended we had over £7Billion of debt and by the time the 2nd World War was done and dusted, we had over £27Billion of debt. Since then the amount has grown steadily, regardless of which Political Party has been in control.

The British – and other – Governments have habitually “borrowed” money to finance their activities, from wars to welfare states.
Political Parties, each upon each, regardless of political name or philosophy, have, over the years, habitually promised us voters “more” if we elect their party representatives. Successive Governments have offered more and more in their efforts to achieve popularity and re-election.

The national borrowing spree became rather like a game of “Pass The Parcel.” Each successive Government fervently hoped that the music of the international financial orchestra would not stop while THEY were in power. Well, now it has stopped. Globally!
In reality, what we have now encountered is not a financial crisis, it is a stupidity crisis. For those who have Internet access, get online and tap “It’s not a Financial Crisis” into your search engine. Read the paper by D. Sherman Okst and much will become clear.
Sadly for all of us, whether we are pensioners, working people, students or work seekers, when the allegedly “Great and Good” make costly mistakes, driven by ambition, ego and greed, we are the ones who have to pay the bill. That is why the gap between rich and poor expands year on year.

My concern is that the people who, collectively, got us all into this crisis, both at national and international levels, are still in place, assuring us all that they are the only ones who can now get us out of the mess they created. Do leopards ever change their spots?
My fervent hope is that a well-managed “Soft Landing” can be arranged, internationally, over the next several years. If it is not, The Great Depression of the 1930s will look like a picnic.

4. Recent Austerity and Future Frugality

In the past nearly 4 years, as Leader of the Coalition Administration and Executive Member for Finance and Asset Management, I have had to steer your county council through a period where we have needed to create efficiency savings in excess of £27Million. That we have achieved, with only 137 compulsory redundancies in almost 4 years, out of a total of some 9,500 employees. The last thing the present administration wishes to do is to remove an earned income from any honest, earnest employee, at whatever level. With unemployment rising, wages largely frozen and the cost of living rising, every job is precious. That is why regeneration of the county’s economy is a priority.

We have also had to tackle a few serious issues that the previous administration, for one reason or another, simply did not get around to dealing with during their 12 years in office. Those issues included the Council Housing Options Ballot, Schools Modernisation and Excess Seats problems and the Single Status process, relating to equal pay for council employees.
The informal stage of our Schools Modernisation Consultation is in progress, heading eventually towards the appearance of firm proposals to deal with the serious matter of excess primary and secondary school places. For us in Buckley, that means likely changes at Elfed School, perhaps with Westwood School also becoming involved.

Our Single Status negotiations with all 9,500 employees are moving steadily towards completion and a Ballot for acceptance sometime in Autumn, with implementation in November.
We have achieved balanced budgets for 2009-10, for 2010-11 and 2011-12 and we have limited your Community Charge increases to the promised 3% for each year, in accordance with our Medium Term Financial Strategy.

Our Budget proposals for 2012-13 are well advanced. Despite the very limited support from the Wales Government, we have balanced Income & Expenditure at £280.991Million and put forward a Capital Expenditure Programme of some £14 Million.
Importantly, just before Christmas, this administration’s Golden Goose of patient, careful political planning did deliver the desired Golden Egg in the form of the Wales Government’s declaration of an Enterprise Zone for us here in Flintshire. That means supportive financial arrangements, major industrial activity in cutting edge technologies and future commercial and employment opportunities for local people and traders. That success was no mean achievement, believe me!

We all want to be proud of where we live, of that I am sure. On that point, if you have an opportunity, take a look in the reception area at county hall. There you will find a collection of certificates and trophies that our staff, have won in the last few years. There are too many to list here, but, collectively, they do display the hard work, expertise and success of many of our staff, as recognized by their peers. There are more now than ever before. Perhaps an even more important, but mostly unheard of success is that our sickness and absence figures have fallen, this last quarter, to the lowest that they have been in a long while. Parallel to that, the number of our employees who have achieved a 100% attendance rate has risen to its highest on record.
It is the positive efforts of most councillors, across political divides, alongside those of our employees at all levels, that have permitted us, as a team, to achieve a steady position as 4th or 6th depending upon which of two measures you consider, in the performance league table of the 22 counties in Wales.

5. For The Ward

Cllr. Richard Jones and I spend more time than residents might know in talking with each other concerning the needs of the ward. We tackle ward concerns, from road repairs to dog dirt bins and housing problems, from noise and smell nuisances to bus service provision. As two members of the present Coalition Administration, we both do our best to support each other. This year is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. As part of the celebrations there is the opportunity to list recreational areas and green spaces as “Coronation Fields” which will be protected against development in perpetuity. Buckley Cricket Club’s present ground, on lease from county council, was nominated as one of those special fields, but has been refused. We will now try to have it listed as a “Field in Trust” because we do need green spaces for sport and leisure activities at whichever pace suits your particular personal situation.

6. Council Housing Ballot & Improvements Schedule

If Council, as a Local Authority Landlord, is to bring our housing stock rapidly up to the required Wales Housing Quality Standard, there is a need to spend a total of about £166Million on necessary improvements, to achieve the standard. County can only afford $49Million leaving a gap of £117Million or so. If the decision of council house tenants is to stay with this county council as their landlord, the following schedule of essential improvement works, not necessarily in the order that I have numbered them, but in priority relating to condition, will occur:-
Kitchen Improvements:-
2012-13 Financial Year:- 1) Coppa View, 2) Jubilee Court, 3) Megs Lane
2013-14 Financial Year:- Prince of Wales Court,
2014-15 Financial Year:- Chester Road Flats
2016-17 Financial Year:- Lyme Grove

Smoke Detector Fitting/Replacement:-
2012-13 Financial Year:- 1) Prince of Wales Court, 2) Lyme Grove, 3) Jubilee Court, 4) Chester Road Flats
2013-14 Financial Year:- Coppa View

2013-14 Financial Year:- Coppa View

Heating Improvements:-
2014-15 Financial Year:- 1) Lyme Grove, 2) Chester Road Flats, 3) Prince of Wales Court

Bathroom Improvements:-
2015-16 Financial Year:- 1) Chester Road Flats, 2) Lyme Grove

If our social housing tenants decide to opt for transfer to the new landlord on offer, that organization will take over complete responsibility for improving our 4379 units of council housing stock, supported by a Wales Government grant of £s Millions of taxpayer’s money, not on offer to council.

7. Future Benefits Changes (Will You Be a Loser?)

In November of 2010 the Westminster Government published a consultation document entitled, “Universal Credit- welfare that works!” As a result of that, some changes were introduced in April of 2011. Two of those were the reduction in housing benefit paid to some tenants renting in the private housing sector and the transfer of claimants from incapacity benefit to an employment and support allowance.
Other intended changes needed primary legislation (A Bill moving through Parliament) before they could become law. So, in February of 2011, the UK Government published the Welfare Reform Bill. That is presently moving through the parliamentary process. Once passed, that will create the groundwork for significant changes to the social security benefit and tax credit systems for future years. For new claimants, the proposed effective date is October 2013. By 2017, all current claimants of these benefits will have had their present benefits reviewed.

Without boring you to tears with details, the Government’s intention is to create a new benefit, called, “Universal Credit” which will result in the abolition of the means-tested benefits presently available to claimants of working-age. (Those include housing benefit and council tax benefit). The changes are all to do with governmental efforts to clamp down on benefit fraud and direct funds to those who genuinely need support.
There is every indication that, along the way, between now and 2017, there will be a serious squeeze on benefit income. That will extend from an intended abolition of the disability living allowance and transfer to a “personal independence payment,” to reducing the amount of housing benefit paid to working age tenants in Social Housing units if their property is deemed to be too big for their actual need.

Within the next two years, around 5,000 of Flintshire’s residents of working age, who are in receipt of incapacity benefit, or severe disablement allowance, will have their on-going eligibility for benefit determined by a more robust medical assessment.
Between January and October of this year, 2012, around 1,900 tenants who are currently renting in the private sector will have their housing benefit reduced. Some will struggle to maintain their present contractual rent payments, of that there is no doubt.
If you are on benefits of any kind, please, please get in touch with your social worker, housing officer, county council’s Welfare Rights Officers, Age Concern or Citizens’ Advice Bureau, to find out if, how and when these welfare reforms are likely to affect you. If they will not, breathe a sigh of relief, relax and call me a daft old worry-guts. If you do find out that they will affect you, please start immediately to plan on how to deal with any foreseeable difficulties, perhaps by speaking with me, or Richard Jones, or with any of the offices or agencies named in the paragraph above. There is support and advice available from the county council, provided you ask!

8. Future Policing, Fire Service and Health Structures.

Just like local government, these other members of the public service family have had to accept deep cuts in funding. From North Wales Police, 131 warranted police officers have gone, so far, along with 112 civilian staff, towards a short-term target of 150 less of each. Restructuring is ongoing and some Police Stations will close. One of those may be Buckley. These cuts are at a time of regional crime figures rising by over 3% across the board last year, with car crime and burglary up much in excess of that level. Against that, the force now has an established Integrated Offender Management Unit, aimed at supporting and managing habitual offenders. That is those criminals who continually rotate in to and out of prison and between them create a significant proportion of mainly the property crimes reported. Although the unit is small and still in its infancy, the initial results have been pleasingly positive. Also, the effect of the passing of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, at Westminster last year will cause the abolition of the North Wales Police Authority in November of this year and its replacement with a publicly elected Police and Crime Commissioner who will be supported by a Police and Crime Panel. That Panel will be made up of at least ten elected county councillors from North Wales, with two independent members. It will have the task of supporting and scrutinizing the newly elected commissioner.

The Fire Service has advised the Regional Partnership Board, upon which I have a seat, that it has cut staffing levels as far as is prudent. Nobody wishes to see fire stations closed, but the worry of that occurring is real. As far as the North Wales Health Board is concerned, there is need for a further saving of £10Million within this current financial year in order to balance their budget. That means changes. Details of those changes are awaited.

9. The New Medical Centre

The latest information to hand, as this newsletter is being sent to press, two or three weeks before you read it, is that the Wales Government now appears to be claiming that there never was any statement from them that the funding for a New Medical Centre in Buckley was ever guaranteed.

10. A New Superstore

The county council officers, urged firmly on by all Buckley county councillors, are still negotiating strongly to finalise the necessary purchases of the Potter’s Wheel and the derelict Legion building so as to be able to offer one large piece of land ready for development. Nothing is certain yet, but interest does exist and hopes are high. Meanwhile, The Co-op has put in a planning application to double the size of their existing store from 15.000sq.ft to 30,000sq.ft, with additional parking spaces. That firm commitment will not affect county council’s determination to see a second superstore built in Buckley. Competition between retailers can only be good for us shoppers.

11. Finally

Well folks, we are heading for Local Government Elections in May. Whether I continue as a Town and County Councillor and whether or not these newsletters continue to appear through your letterbox will be entirely up to you. That is the way I believe it should be. It is ordinary people who should have the power, not the politicians. I hope that I have done the job you elected me to do in the way you wished me to do it. That is by being firm but fair and open, transparent and accountable. I have tried my best to help individuals where I was able to and have always explained fully whenever I was not able to help. All that I can do now is to hope that I have got it right, for you! So, I am asking for your support, please, at the Ballot Box in May. Meanwhile, as Leader, I shall get on and try to keep the county’s wheels on track so that no matter who forms the administration after the elections, in May, any hand-over to them will be a smooth and orderly one.



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