By Ken Skates AM / Latest News / 0 Comments

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES has called for an end to the ‘postcode lottery’ of disability grant funding.

Figures published recently by the Local Government Data Unit show that some councils in Wales are taking over 600 days to pay the Disabled Facilities Grant.  The money is a local council grant that helps towards the cost of adapting someone’s home and pays for vital equipment such as hand rails or disability ramps.

Last year Newport council took an average of 638 days to pay the Disabled Facilities Grant compared to Conwy council that took just 180 days.

In September Sarah Rochira, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, said she would take public bodies, including councils, to court if they fail in their obligations to Wales’ 710,000 older people.

Wrexham took 274 days to pay the grant in 2011 while Flintshire took 404 days.

Clwyd South AM Ken Skates said:

“It’s obviously unacceptable that there is such a wide disparity across Wales in the time it takes elderly and disabled people to receive their Disabled Facilities Grant. In some areas people are waiting four times longer for payments to be processed.

“Whilst I do understand that some adaptations are complex and expensive, we do need to see all councils operating within the 12 month statutory period to pay grants. After all, experts say an average grant of £7,500 can keep someone out of residential care for four years, which can cost over £100,000 so it makes sense to get things done quicker.

“Whilst we don’t want to see the Older People’s Commissioner intervening on councils or taking them to court, it’s up to local authorities to make life easier for older and disabled people across Wales. 

“It is possible for Councils to do better.  Conwy were one of the worst performing authorities only a few years ago, but having made it a corporate priority within the council they now have their payment wait down from over 1,000 days to just 180 days.

“This is the model we should be using to improve services for people and communities right across Wales.

“As a member of the Local Government Committee in the Assembly I will certainly be recommending to my fellow committee members that we look into this matter in order that we can monitor the improvements we need to see in council performance right across Wales.”

The average time it took to pay out grants in Wales was 326 days last year.

In Wales, the maximum available amount is £36,000 which can be spent on lifts, ramps, widening doors, installing a downstairs bathroom or improving a heating system.
DELIVERING DISABLED FACILITY GRANTS (AVERAGE DAYS)

Isle of Anglesey        – 309 
Gwynedd                   – 281 
Conwy                        – 180 
Denbighshire             – 219 
Flintshire                    – 404 
Wrexham                   – 274 
Powys                         – 385 
Ceredigion                 – 447 
Pembrokeshire         – 318 
Carmarthenshire      – 310 
Swansea                     – 339 
Neath Port Talbot     – 531 
Bridgend                    – 251 
Vale of Glamorgan    – 399 
Cardiff                         – 220 
Rhondda Cynon Taf  – 225 
Merthyr Tydfil           – 175 
Caerphilly                   – 331 
Blaenau Gwent         – 306 
Torfaen                       – 413 
Monmouthshire       – 311 
Newport                    – 638 

Wales Average          – 326

Source: Local Government Data Unit

-Ends-

By Ken Skates AM / Latest News / 0 Comments

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES has called on the Culture Secretary Maria Millar to develop a separate Channel 3 Licence for Wales.

The new Culture Secretary is currently considering options for the renewal of ITV’s public service licence after 2014 and the Labour AM, who recently chaired an Assembly Enquiry into the Media, has called for a distinct Wales-only licence.

The AM said the future health of ITV was vital to a healthy media in Wales and warned of the impact further staff cutbacks could have on coverage of news and politics.

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES said:

“The future of ITV in Wales is vital if we are serious about developing a strong media landscape.  The current Channel three licence expires in 2014 and the renewal options currently being examined by the Secretary of State are hugely important to the future of public service broadcasting in Wales.

“I believe ITV should have its renewal but as we suggested in our report, maintaining the current licence terms and conditions must be the absolutely bare minimum.  As a Bridgend-born Secretary of State, Maria Millar will know the importance of a strong and distinct ITV presence in Wales. 

“In addition I would certainly urge the Minister and ITV to be seriously examining the possibility of a separate, Wales-only licence that is commercially sustainable and meets the needs of the community.  The importance of this would be that it would make it much easier in future years to encourage other players into the market to develop an alternative Channel three offering for Wales. 

“We’ve already seen ITV’s public service broadcasting commitments scaled back quite drastically over the last few years.  It’s had a big impact in Wales where ITV now only broadcasts four and a half hours of news and ninety minutes of non-news every week.”

This week ITV announced a wave of redundancies to staff across its regional news with cutbacks affecting technical and support staff including directors, craft editors and camera operators ITV introduces a new centralised graphics unit based in Birmingham.

The move is believed to be the first phase of a two-part redundancy plan, coming after just a handful of staff opted for voluntary redundancy in a scheme announced on 7 September.

The AM warned:

“If renewal does go ahead I would seriously urge ITV to think long and hard about how the planned regional cutbacks will impact on output here in Wales.

“We have historically had a very weak media in Wales and it is vital both to the plurality of output and to the future of our devolved democracy that we ensure the health and vibrancy of our most important commercial station.

“Cutbacks at ITV Wales in terms of staff and jobs would seriously impact on their ability to be a rigorous and authoritative public service broadcaster for the nation.”

-Ends-

 

By Ken Skates AM / Latest News / 0 Comments

 

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES has called on the Welsh Government and council officials in North Wales to secure the future of the Etape Cymru road race.

Earlier this month the Etape Cymru closed road cycling race took place in North Wales.  The event was a huge success, attracting 1,200 riders for the event, including local Olympic medallist Chris Bartley, as well as drawing in many hundreds of spectators along the route.

However there is uncertainty as to where the race will be held in 2013 with a start and finish point yet to be agreed.

The AM raised the issue with the First Minister in the Senedd on Tuesday.

Clwyd South AM Ken Skates said:

“The Etape Cymru road race was a huge success this year, drawing in over a thousand riders and scores of people coming out onto the roads in Denbighshire to watch and enjoy the racing.

“It’s clear that the event has huge potential.  Cycling is one of the most popular sports in the UK and the roads of North Wales are absolutely perfect for top-level racing of this kind.

“The 92 mile race takes in some of the most stunning landscapes in Europe along The Horseshoe Pass, The Garth and Worlds End and can help promote Denbighshire and North East Wales as a top-level holiday destination, boosting cycling tourism in the region.

“If we worked hard to grow the event it could be a real money-spinner for the local economy, but crucially it needs support, vision and energy to make it a success. 

“The local Council in Denbighshire need to get fully behind the project and officials in the Major Events Unit at the Welsh Government need to better understand its growth potential.

“There is still some work to do to secure the future of the event and ensure it has a venue and sponsorship for 2013.  This needs to be sorted out quickly in order to capitalise on the potential of the event and establish it as a major feature on international road cycling calendar.”

The First Minister said the Etape Race would be one of the events the Major Events Unit would consider for support.

-Ends-

 

By Ken Skates AM / Latest News / 0 Comments

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES has welcomed a Denbighshire Council decision to approve a new supermarket in Llangollen.

Sainsburys will now build a new store on Berwyn Street which will enable Llangollen’s largest employer Dobson and Crowther to move its printing works to an urgently needed new facility at the Cilmedw site in the town.

The AM said the move would not only help protect around one hundred printing jobs in Llangollen but hopefully be the start of greater investment in the Dee Valley.

Clwyd South AM Ken Skates said:

“The most important thing throughout this whole process has been to make sure we secured the good quality printing jobs we already have at Dobson and Crowther.  The company have badly needed a new, modern manufacturing site for many years and now they can plan their future around this move.

“The campaigners on both sides of the argument have argued passionately throughout and it was clear, from early on in this process, that there was never going to be an easy answer.  However, everyone has had their say and I’m pleased at the decision that was taken and believe it is the right one for the town of Llangollen.

“A significant number of jobs will now be created at the Sainsburys store and this will be a vital boost to the town during the toughest recession we have seen in a generation.  This will hopefully be the start of brighter things to come.

“What I’ve been calling for during my time as an AM is for more investment, jobs and skills training so we can give young people living in the Dee Valley a chance of a decent future.  An enormous pool of talent exists in the Valley, from Cefn Mawr through to Corwen and the opening up of the Cilmedw site offers the potential to attract more highly skilled jobs into the region so young people aren’t forced to move away for work.

“I’m engaging constructively with the Welsh Government on how we can further grow the local economy in this area and I have invited the Minister for Business and Enterprise on a visit to see some of the important strategic employers we need to encourage in the Dee Valley.”

-Ends-

 

By Ken Skates AM / Latest News / 0 Comments

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES has said communities could be at risk of losing out on millions of pounds if planning law is not reformed in Wales.

The Labour AM has called on the Welsh Government to re-examine the system after planning inspectors ruled that a property development firm did not have to pay £334,683 to Denbighshire Council for a development of flats on land at Plas Derwen in Llangollen. 

Under ‘Section 106 Agreements’ developers are bound in contract to deliver a portion of the project in affordable housing or other community benefits such as playgrounds or new roads.  However the economic slowdown is leading to more of these agreements being torn up.

The AM said this pattern could be repeated across Wales leading to a huge loss of funds for local communities.

CLWYD SOUTH AM KEN SKATES said:

“As a result of the economic slowdown we need to see a change to the way planning law operates in Wales, particularly in relation to the obligations that are enforced on private sector developers to develop affordable housing.

“Up until now planning gain or ‘Section 106’ agreements have placed conditions on developers to ensure a certain portion of the build is affordable housing or other facilities such as a new park or playground that would benefit the community. 

“However as we have seen from the Llangollen case, the economic slowdown is leading to more and more developers being released from their contractual obligations.  If the Llangollen case is being repeated across Wales this is millions of pounds potentially being lost by our communities.

“It’s a difficult situation because whilst we want to get the economy moving again through more housing construction, there is the risk that communities in Wales could lose more of this very valuable funding stream.”

The Welsh Government said earlier this year they will work with councils to revise the Section 106 guidance because “inconsistencies in approach” can act as a barrier to housebuilding.

An investigation back In February by the BBC showed that more than half of Welsh councils were owed nearly £2.3m from private developers under section 106 agreements.  The amount outstanding in Wrexham was nearly £450,000

The Clwyd South AM added:

“We need to see reform thought through carefully.  Whilst there must be room for negotiation of section 106 agreements as economic times get tough, developers must not be released from their obligations lightly and it must always be with the consent of the council, not forced upon them as happened in Llangollen. 

“Maybe we could look to more innovative solutions such as having the Section 106 agreement transferred into a long-term loan that the developer could pay back over the longer term?  We also need to look at the powers councils have to enforce current agreements.

“Whichever way we go, we must ensure communities don’t lose out and that we maintain confidence in contracts that have been signed in good faith and we don’t undermine transparency in the planning process.”

-Ends-