A small cog? Or a big wheel?

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 activities.


1. General

I am at a loss to explain why we have politicians, at levels way above local authorities, who simply refuse to see the writing on the wall and then read and understand it. To steer the UK out of present troubles we require, in Cardiff and in Westminster; men and women of vision and decision.
Tragically, we do not seem to have them. What we seem to have is a collection of people who wish to keep kicking the tin can of difficult decisions down the road. People content to “tinker at the edges” rather than firmly grasp the nettle, tear it out, leafs, stem, roots and all and then plant more fruitful seeds.
The particular nettle I refer to is the rising and soon likely to become unaffordable, cost of Local Government and the Public Service.

There is evidence, persuasive evidence, from reputable bodies, that unless some bold and innovative re-organisation is undertaken, by 2022 or thereabouts, the dwindling amount of annual funding for local government will meet the rising annual cost of paying for just two essential public services; those being Care for the Elderly and Support for Vulnerable Young People. No money left for Education, Highways, Housing, Refuse or anything else? Unthinkable? Not so! It is in fact inevitable; unless some drastic re-organisation is carefully planned and put into effect in good time.

So far, here in Wales, in recent years, the 22 Local Authorities have been instructed to “Collaborate” in order to save money and improve services. Flintshire has been a leading light in that worthy attempt to economise, but, those efforts have produced merely pennies where pounds are needed.

Many of my fellow councillors will pillory me for stating that we need, urgently, to move to a Single Public Service arrangement. Included within that has to be a move towards some form of “Regionalisation,” possibly based on the old pattern of larger counties, as was in days of Clwyd, Gwynnedd, etc. If it is not that shape, then perhaps based on the boundaries of the half dozen Health Boards. Looming hugely is the need for Health Services, Social Services and Housing Authorities to get their overarching act much more interconnected. That can only be achieved by working, or even being, together.

The recent announcement of a Commission to look into the future shape of the Public Service in Wales is at least and perhaps at last, a small step in the right direction. However, time is short. The radical restructuring that is needed has to be achieved via a well thought through, orderly, sensible and comprehensive plan that allows for a great deal of communication, over the next few, or several, years, with the public. The magnitude of change needed will take that length of time. That is why I say that “The Great and the Good” if that is what they are, need to wake up and act, not dither, as they appear to be doing now.


2. White-Out!

When the pre-Easter snows descended, Buckley seemed to collect more than its fair share of the stuff. So much so that for those who needed to head off to work by car on the following Monday morning, digging their cars out of their snowed-in situation on drives and at roadsides and getting them safely under way, from estate roads and onto the gritted and cleared main roads, became a priority.

A great deal of commendable work was done by Councillors of all political persuasions and levels, by families, neighbours and friends, who shovelled tons of snow, cleared and gritted difficult slopes and bends and generally demonstrated that a sense of community spirit still exists, even amid our modern, often selfish and “Sod-You!” society that we exist within.

I am not too sure how much the efforts of local estate residents were actually helped along by the traversing of the snow ploughs arranged by county council. To some extent they merely created banks of snow at kerbside, across driveways and up against parked cars that then had to be cleared to somewhere else, usually a front garden or on to the adjacent pavement.
What I am sure about is that Buckley’s Town Centre, its pedestrian areas and central car parking areas, close to shops and medical centre, received little or no attention at all from the county council’s snow clearing teams, until the following Tuesday, after a great deal of grumbling from umpteen Town and County Councillors from the wards in Buckley, most of whom, like me, lost count of the number of phone calls we made, attempting to get snow cleared from various locations. Particularly neglected were the pavements from Lane End to the town centre. Residents in that area have every right to feel resentful. That resentment is probably matched by my feeling of frustration that it took so long to get anything at all done in that area.


Buckley is still, even if just by a whisker, the largest single community in the county in terms of number of houses. Buckley is also “up a bit” in terms of height above sea level and, from that elevated situation, seems to collect more snowflakes than areas at lower altitude, such as the Deeside Strip, Sealand, Broughton and Saltney.

Putting size and level of snow-fall together, Buckley should have merited some degree of priority in the county’s process of snow-clearing. Instead, what was encountered was that Mold, the Deeside Strip and Wepre Park Carpark, with far lesser levels of snow on the ground, received that immediate attention while Buckley was left to fend entirely for itself for three days. Whether the decision that Buckley was left until last was a deliberate one by Senior Officers, or by The Labour Cabinet, because Buckley is no longer sufficiently “Labour” in voting terms, or simply a matter of inadvertence, will probably be argued over for some time, most likely without any clear-cut and satisfactory resolution. All I know is that Buckley, as a town, appears to have been “done down” by whatever policy it was that was put into operation.

What residents can take heart over is the fact that Buckley’s councillors of all political viewpoints appeared united in objecting to whatever prioritisation system was applied. Town Council meetings since the snows have made our collective views clear to Officers and the controlling administration and called for a far more objective and needs-based system to be used in future.
Aside from the suspicions and irritations, we all have to offer a huge “Thank You” to the regular county council drivers and other workers, the temporary employees and contracted providers who worked long and hard to keep main roads open, necessary supplies and provisions delivered and worked their way around to attending to the elderly, the infirm and the housebound in conditions that were “testing” to say the least.

Finally, let us all be grateful for the fact that our electricity supplies never faltered. Had they done so, think just how much worse it could have been, for all of us.


3. Our Roads and Car Parks.

Those residents who read The Leader newspaper will be aware that many weeks ago I invited a reporter, Andrew Boyd, along with a photographer, to visit our ward, to look at and report upon the dreadful, unacceptable and now simply dangerous state of the tarmac surfaces on roads and in parking areas, particularly the Precinct Carpark. That of course was just before the snow descended and freezing temperatures kicked in. I did provide them with a route around the area to look at places where the worst holes and rough edges were to be found.


The resulting article was a very fair and objective one, pointing out that our ward was typical of the state of our roads throughout the county.
For car drivers, there is the risk of tyre and suspension damage. That has an impact upon our pockets. For cyclists and motorcyclists, there is the very real risk of being brought down in the road amid flowing traffic, all too much of it exceeding the local speed limit. Nobody wishes to read of any child or adult being injured, or worse, in the weeks and months ahead, but, unless the present administration in control of the county gets to grips with this problem and resolves it, preferably rapidly, there is a tragedy just waiting to happen. The fact that the county has insurance cover against any claims is cold comfort for anyone injured or worse.

To be fair, matters have not been made any easier, in hard times, by the estimated £1 Million of unbudgeted additional cost for road maintenance and car park repairs caused by the severe weather.
The likelihood that matters will be put right in any short or reasonable period of time has been called in to serious question by a paper to Cabinet on 23rd April, 2013, concerning Budget Revenue Monitoring for Month 10 of the 2012-13 financial year. (That is January of 2013 to us ordinary folks!)

At Page 1 of the Environment Department Section, the report sets out a projected overspend of some £49,000 at year end, on an original Budget of £25,000 for car park maintenance. However, that projected overspend is reported as having much to do with, “Car Park income shortfalls at Holywell and Mold, which have slightly increased this period, but which are partially offset by a reduced maintenance programme.” It also notes that, “Back pay totalling £15k is anticipated for Car Park Attendants regarding overtime payable at an enhanced rate for Saturday working.” That “reduced maintenance programme” is likely to be part of the cause of the poor state of the Precinct Car Park.

I did make a further attempt, on 13th April, to get something done about the state of the Precinct Car Park. I emailed Carl Longland, Director of Environment Department, which includes Highways and copied my email to the Leader of Council, Cllr. Aaron Shotton and to Cllr. Bernie Attridge, the Cabinet Member for Environment.


My email was phrased as below.


Subject: Potholes!
Good afternoon Carl,
During my local shopping expedition into Buckley Town Centre this morning I was stopped by literally half a dozen irate local residents, all complaining about the state of the roadways in and around the town and, in particular, the dreadful state of the Precinct Car Park, where significant blemishes and potholes abound.

As one lady put it, "Mr. Woolley, will you kindly tell those who make the decisions that this is the last time I intend to shop here in Buckley until this car park is put right. I'd rather go down to Broughton where at least I will not wreck my car or break my ankle."
I think that about sums it up.
Whatever can be done to improve matters will be much appreciated.

The only response was a fairly rapid one from Cllr. Bernie Attridge, who set out reasons why Buckley might have to wait a bit for repairs to the car park in question. There’s a lot to do in Connah’s Quay.

Interestingly, over the weekend of 27th-28th April,2013, the entire officers’/councillors’/visitors’ car park at county hall, which, in my judgement as a user of both locations, was in far better condition than Buckley’s Precinct Car Park, was suddenly re-surfaced. That activity caused a brief email exchange between FCC’s CEO, Colin Everett and me. On 7th May, 2013, the Leader newspaper, on page 5, featured a photograph and article about one of our own ward’s residents, Mr. Keith Cotton, who suffered a wrist injury while driving on the Precinct Car Park. On the 12th May the Precinct Car Park was partially resurfaced, somewhat “Out of the blue!”. Was it Keith Cotton’s photograph in the newspaper that did it, or my chasings? Who knows?

4. The New Medical Centre.

The plans have been approved, the money has been provided and, on the site where nobody wants it to be, the larger trees have been felled. Now there are whispers of disagreements between the Developer and would-be tenants and further referrals to the Wales Government. Hopefully, before much longer, real construction work will begin. Until then, it’s “fingers crossed.”


5. The Living Wage.

Many of you will be familiar with the Minimum Legal Wage for adults in the UK. Currently £6:19 per hour, due to rise shortly to £6:31 per hour. To save you having to reach for your calculators, that is an increase of 12P or 1.9%, well below the average Cost of Living increase in the UK over the past few years. There is ample evidence to suggest that that £6:31 per hour, even for workers in full time work, is not enough to allow anyone with a family to live decently or save a little for rainy days ahead.
For that reason, in the 1990s a campaign was commenced in the UK, to call for a “Living Wage” rather than a Legal Minimum Wage. That Living Wage is calculated, yearly, in November, by considerations of the Greater London Authority and the Social Responsibilities Department of Loughborough University. Presently the figures are £7:45 per hour outside of London and £7:85 within London.

The campaign to deliver that Living Wage for all workers on low pay in the UK has slowly gathered pace over the years. It is supported by the Mayor of London, by Ed Miliband, by the Guardian Columnist Polly Toynby and others, including our local A.M., Carl Sargeant, which is right and proper, because the Wales Government became a Living Wage Employer some 7 years back.
Labour controlled Birmingham City Council commenced paying its 3,000 lowest paid workers the Living Wage in June of 2012. Swansea, another Labour controlled local authority followed suit in July of 2012 and, more recently Cardiff, under Labour control, began to deliver the Living Wage to 3,000 of its lowest paid workers in April, 2013.

Here in Flintshire we have around 2,500 county council employees who are paid at, or very close to, the Legal Minimum Wage of £6:19 per hour. 84% of them are women. Most, if not all, are part-time employees, whose income is made up by Benefits of one kind or another.
For a few years now, your county council has been consulting and negotiating to deliver a Single Status Agreement for staff. Think of it as an equal work for equal pay arrangement. Hopefully, that will be agreed later this year. With that in mind, on 16th April, 2013, at full county council, I introduced a Notice of Motion that called upon full council to recommend to the Cabinet, when bringing in that Single Status Agreement later this year, to make the Living Wage the baseline for lowest paid workers, rather than the Legal Minimum Wage.
Instead of throwing their weight wholeheartedly behind that Notice of Motion, the Leader of the council introduced an amendment, which called on the Cabinet to merely “Move Towards” the Living Wage when delivering the Single Status Agreement. In effect, my Notice of Motion was thrown out

It will be interesting to see just how far the ruling administration moves to make life better for the lowest paid workers in a few month’s time.


6. Loan Sharks.

Once more I make the heartfelt plea to ALL residents, to avoid falling into the clutches of any of the door-step, pay-day or TV based organisations that promise EASY CREDIT.


There is no such thing as a Free Lunch and neither is there anything easy about “Credit” which is, in real terms, nothing more than DEBT. Life is tough enough now for many people, whether they are on low pay or not. Any crisis or drama that arrives “out of the blue” puts pressure on people and the need for additional funding at such times is real. However, talk the problem through with family, with friends, with your bank manager or a professional financial advisor. Make an appointment with a CABx office.
Don’t be afraid to speak with your local councillor about it. We do deal with many sensitive and confidential issues within our wards. If talking it over with a local councillor does not sit well with you, get in touch with county council’s Debt or Benefits Advice Teams. Find out about your local Credit Union. Whatever you do, stay away from the likes of WONGA and the others, whose interest rates run at around 4,000% Per Annum.

Interestingly, half of the individual States in the USA have laws capping loan interest to 40 or 60% APR. New Zealand has a similar national limit. Despite many approaches from pressure groups such as TCC and others, here in the UK, the Governments of all political colours have, over the years, stoutly refused to introduce any such limit. Their sympathies are clearly with Banks, Big Business and the Financial Services sector in general, rather than with ordinary people struggling along on fixed incomes and low pay.


7. Funeral Costs.

Following along somewhat from the item above, I have had to offer advice relating to debts arising from an unexpected bereavement. The family members, faced with the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one, were in no state of mind to start quibbling about costs and getting competitive quotations. They chose a funeral directing company that they believed was reputable and simply asked them to provide the entire package. Nobody on either side talked costs or affordability. Eventually, when the bill arrived, it was literally staggering. Being decent people who had just lost a breadwinner and who wished to pay off the bill, they turned to a pay day loan company. That eventually made the situation worse.

The Grim Reaper lurks in wait for all of us, sometime. When that time comes, surviving family members need to ensure that whichever company’s services they seek, that company delivers a clear, up-front itemised quotation of costs, not an estimate. To that end, there has been a national campaign, driven locally by TCC, asking all funeral directing companies to pledge that they will quote costs up front at any first inquiry and not merely deliver a shockingly heavy bill only after the sad event. Make sure that, should need arise, you use an up-front company, not the other kind.


8. The New Superstore.

Well, just like the New Medical Centre, the long talked about new superstore is also still eagerly awaited. At the time of this newsletter going to press, the delay in progress appears to centre on a purchase price for the dis-used Royal British Legion’s building and terms and conditions relating to that.
When that obstacle is removed, progress will be possible. For the moment,
all I can offer is that all of us are working hard to overcome the obstacle.

9. The Deeside Energy from Waste Plant.

As an active environmentalist, a member of the Zero Waste Alliance (UK) and of GAIA, the Global Alternative to Incineration Alliance, I have no love for incinerators or co-incinerators. Regrettably, Westminster and Cardiff appear to be totally gutless when it comes to thoughts, let alone deeds, of regulating and controlling the production of “throw-away” manufactured goods and their largely un-necessary packaging. What Cardiff and Westminster should be doing is pressurising manufacturers, by regulation or other means, to improve design and materials and recovery technology relating to those materials, so that we have “circularity” in the lifetime of non-consumable products. Even the European Union is moving in that direction.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth have produced a very rational report on the proposal for the Incinerator, setting out all of the many reasons why it is not wanted, not needed and not good value for public money. Starting with a 25 year contract and over £100Million of our money, the Deeside Incinerator is a bad idea all round. Don’t take my word for it; read the Friends of the Earth report for yourselves, I can provide you with electronic or hard copies on request, via my snail mail, email, or telephone numbers.

10. Blackpool Comes To Buckley.

Well, not quite! However, your town councillors intend to provide residents and visitors with a full day of family fun and a sea-side atmosphere, right in the centre of town, on August the 18th.

Andy White, our Town Manager had the idea. The Town Council is fully supporting him. The arrangements are well under way, with a whole list of attractive and engaging events. A couple of tonnes of sand and free buckets and spades for the youngsters (Of all ages?), classic car and motorcycle parades, donkey rides and all the fun of the fair. Put the date in your diary and please do come along to enjoy the day.


If you wish to contact me, please use: 75 Bryn Awelon, Buckley, CH7 2QF (01244) 549421(H), (01352) 752121(FCC) or arnooldwoolley@outlook.com