north Wales

U-turn on disabled living grant welcomed by Plaid

The following article was taken from the Plaid Wrecsam blog. I take no credit for the article and thank everyone at Plaid for their support.

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Today sees a Plaid Cymru-initiated debate on the Welsh Independent Living Grant in the Senedd. 

Coincidentally, the Welsh Government yesterday announced it was pausing its controversial plans to axe the grant, which enables disabled people in Wales to live independently and manage their own affairs. The pause comes after relentless pressure coordinated by Wrexham campaigner Nathan Lee Davies and many others. The debate was intended to maintain the pressure on the Labour Government, which had decided to follow the Tory line in Westminster and axe the grant.

Responding to the decision by the Welsh Government to bring in revised arrangements for the Welsh Independent Living Grant, Leanne Wood AM, Plaid Cymru shadow minister for social justice said:

 

“The Welsh Government should just have the guts to admit it got this wrong from the very beginning. After the proposed changes are filtered through, we should have a situation where no disabled person has lost out on care. However, we will be spending considerably more money on administration and reviews to get to this point than if the Welsh Government had just adopted the Scottish and Northern Ireland approach of retaining the fund – as we argued for at the time. 

“The problems identified that have led to this suspension of the transition were entirely predictable and have caused disabled people a great deal of anxiety and stress. All because Welsh Labour have been too stubborn to listen to disabled people and their own party activists over the bureaucrats in local authorities.”

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru AM for North Wales, has campaigned on behalf of WILG recipients for the past year and said:

“Without the tireless campaign of disability activists such as my constituent Nathan Lee Davies, it’s unlikely this U-turn would have happened. Disabled people would have faced yet another significant cut to the support they have and a loss to their independence. 

“Questions have to be asked about why the Welsh Government made the wrong decision in the first place and what it really says about how much it listens to disabled people. Where has the government been before now in acknowledging its proposals wouldn’t work?

“Coming twenty-four hours before Plaid Cymru’s debate to save the Welsh Independent Living Grant, they clearly did not relish defending their failed policy.”

 

In the Shade

I was recently contacted by a journalist for the Sun newspaper who wanted to speak to me about my Blue Badge campaign after reading the following blog by Vox Political.  I was delighted that my story was taken up by Mike Sivier at one of the leading political blogs, but I was most surprised and conflicted by the subsequent interest of a dubious tabloid title.

After much thought of the pros and cons of associating myself with a Murdoch publication, I wrote the following email to the journalist involved:

Hi,

This is a rather difficult email to write. I do no doubt your journalistic credentials and your ability as a writer for the biggest tabloid in Britain. I would like to thank you for your interest in telling my story and wishing to highlight the issue of disabled parking in council car parks across Britain. The opportunity to have my say in a national newspaper would usually be welcomed, but I possess these annoying things called principles that prevent me from speaking to this particular title.

I do not feel that the newspaper in question is very sympathetic to the struggles of disabled people and your readership most certainly is not. It would therefore seem most unusual for you to support my anti-austerity campaign against a Conservative/Independent council.

Living in North Wales, I enjoy frequent day trips to Liverpool and feel I must show camaraderie with the City’s residents who boycott this newspaper. I will remain silent as a mark of respect to the 96 people who lost their lives at Hillsborough and their families.

Thank you for the opportunity and I hope you can understand and respect my decision. Let me take this chance to wish you all the best in the future.

Nathan Lee Davies
Disabled Activist and Author

Some Party leaders come to Wrexham for Election Debate

On Wednesday 30 March I attended the FSB Welsh Leaders’ Debate at the Catrin Finch Centre at Glyndwr University. I have a rather exciting story to share from the evening, but I don’t want to share it at the moment because I do not want to give away my political allegiances before the hustings that I have arranged with Sheila Meadows OBE at the end of the month.

Until then, here is the story of the evening as taken from Wrexham.com

 

With the Federation of Small Business hosting the event at Wrexham Glyndwr University the debate itself was a businesslike affair.

First Minster Carwyn Jones was subbed by Edwina Hart AM, with Mr Jones having understandable business regarding Tata Steel. Mark Reckless of Rochester and Strood fame stood in for UKIP’s Nathan Gill, with the other parties having their leadership lining up as promised – Andrew Davies from the Conservatives, Kirsty Williams from the Liberal Democrats and Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru.

Wrexham.com did offer to film and live stream the event, however organisers have said BBC Radio Wales will be ‘carrying the event’ in some form, so we will provide a link if/when we spot it, for now there is a summary of some of the points made and a few observations of the evening.

( UPDATE there is a 30 minute edit that you can listen to online, or download an MP3 of on the BBC website here )

The debate was fast paced crammed into an hour with topics focused on Welsh business and related subjects.

The initial question that dominated the first quarter of the discussions centred around the news over Tata Steel looking to dispose of their assets in the UK (More coverage on this can be found on Deeside.com, with the obvious Shotton interest).

The responses from the panel were along party lines nationally through today, with Labour stating it was not just a Welsh Government issue but global due to ‘dumping’ from China with a wish that the issue will ‘rise above politics’. Edwina Hart said she wanted to see a ‘fit for purpose’ steel industry in the UK as regardless of Tata or state owner it is making £1m per day claimed losses.

In a conciliatory tone the Conservative leader stated it was ‘vital’ that both the Welsh and UK Governments worked together, and that they were not against a ‘stake’ being taking in the business for a short while if it was so required. A ‘tit for tat tariff war’ was warned against, with a refusal of Chinese steel being linked to possible knock on effects to other demand such as Airbus planes.

UKIP cited the lack of protection from the EU over ‘dumping’, with Mr Reckless wanting the UK to stand alone to enable ‘anti dumping tariffs’. EU rules over clean energy were noted with new coal power plants being on UKIP’s agenda if the referendum votes ‘out’.

The Liberal Democrats echoed other views of steel being an ‘industry of national strategic importance’, explaining that Shotton appears to be the only profitable part of the Tata UK operation and concern over the lack of clarity to its future. Referring to the banking bail outs, Kirsty Williams said “We need to put our money where our mouth is” to similarly bail out the steel industry, saying governments spend money on things ‘a lot worse’ than saving jobs.

Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru introduced a political fight, challenging Labour’s record saying manufacturing had ‘not been a priority for years’, pointing out that the Conservatives had been lobbying for China to be granted market economy status – a move that would it is claimed have severe impact on the competitiveness of the UK steel industry. UKIP also had their nose tweaked as their EU argument was skewered with it pointed out regardless if the UK was in or out, there is still a Conservative Government in Westminster so the policy on China would not change.

Another question was asked over divides in spending, with the implication the M4 corridor in South Wales and Deeside get a bigger bite at the proverbial cherry than other areas. The M4 is currently due to get a £1 billion upgrade, with a controversial relief road being much debated. The various black and blue versions of routes were mentioned several times leaving a debate in North Wales with a question over a southern focus bruised.

All parties noted issues with the A55, with electrification of the North Wales mainline or associated transport link improvements also being seen as important by all. The dividing lines were drawn over the implementation of spending, with UKIP looking to develop links with the so called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ in a geographically imprecise area.

Edwina Hart challenged the view on the south getting a better deal than the north, saying that us here in the north get more per head spent on transport than the south. Looking at Andrew Davies, she also pointed out that the limits to cash available are due to the Conservative party in Westminster.

Kirsty Williams said there ‘was life outside of Cardiff and Newport’ and favoured a balanced regional approach, explaining how she was from mid-wales and therefore knows how it feels to be ‘not listened to’ by Cardiff. Leanne Wood went a step further saying Plaid Cymru would entrench fairness in spending into law to ensure there could be no geographical bias.

Wrexham.com has covered the mystery over the ‘deal’ for North Wales, and with the Chancellor George Osbourne putting it on par with a £1 billion city deal for Cardiff (signed and sealed) it did seem odd there was no mention of it. Andrew Davies reiterated that a strong economy was required for growth, and echoed UKIP’s view to ‘plug in’ to the Northern Powerhouse, explaining how he sees more east-west connections rather north-south.

With only twenty minutes remaining the last two questions about inward investment, tax reform, business rates and business support were answered in an often tangential manner.

Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru explained plans for Welsh Government to take equity stakes in new startups rather than straight grants, a system that would share the risk and reward.

Mark Reckless from UKIP said it was a ‘disgrace’ that the Severn Bridge tolls were to be kept under Conservative plans, with Andrew Davies from the Conservatives responding to abolish them would cost £15-20m and increase road use by 25%.

Kirsty Williams from the Liberal Democrats made the only mention of tourism, saying she welcomed more visitors and encouraged more to be done to promote Wales.

Edwina Hart from Labour spoke of her positive experiences of visiting classrooms and seeing entrepreneurial spirit from children however pondered when it was ‘knocked out of them’.

No large scale reforms of the business rates systems were proposed, with various tapers and reliefs being put forward by all to help business. Kirsty Williams did give a warning that any wholesale changes would need to be ‘very careful’ as her locality does not collect much in rates but gets much more benefit, and devolving collection and control to local authorities could exacerbate any finance gaps.

In what was quite a tranquil debate the only audience applause (and a whoop) occurred when Edwina Hart suggested that Andrew Davies’ Conservative Party could make large global corporates pay tax, presumably referring to the likes of Facebook and similar who paid £4,327 in corporation tax in the UK in 2014 despite making $2.9bn profit globally.

Mr Davies replied that more had been collected under the Conservatives recently than under the whole of the previous Labour Government, a similar applause then took place.

The event went well, with the BBC Wales host Brian Meechan conducting his work with a subtle touch, however after the meeting there was mutterings on the small scale of the event and inability to get tickets. One told us they had many interested friends who were unable to attend, with them disappointed the audience appeared ‘packed’ with ‘political types’ – we did spot a couple of candidates for various positions and members of their entourages sitting in.

There was a video link in place to Swansea, with one question posed via the connection, one wag after the meeting said: “We have a meeting about North Wales in North Wales and still South Wales gets focus”, although for those unaware of the M4 routes it would have been an educational experience.

Written Statement

Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014: An update on legislative, national and regional implementation

Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health and Social Services

 

In May 2015, the Welsh Government began formal consultation on the second tranche of regulations, codes of practice and statutory guidance to be made under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

Following the end of the consultation on 31 July 2015, this statement updates Assembly Members on progress to date, highlights forthcoming activity and advises members of the communications support that we are making available.

The consultation covered 4 parts of the Act – specifically parts 5 (Charging and Financial Assessment), 6 (Looked After and Accommodated Children), 9 (Co-operation and Partnership) and 10 (Advocacy Services) – in line with the approach set out by the former Deputy Minister for Social Services Gwenda Thomas AM in her written statement of 16 July 2014.

During the 12-week consultation period, 2 events were held, involving over 200 delegates representing a wide range of stakeholder bodies from across Wales. More than 200 substantive written responses were received to the consultation from a broad mix of individuals, representative groups, local government and professional organisations.

The overall feedback was positive with respondents broadly supportive of both the principles and detail of the draft regulations, codes of practice and statutory guidance. Further detail on these will be available within the consultation summary reports to be published shortly.

As a result of consultation a number of key changes have been made. These include:

  • Adding a new chapter on debt recovery to the part 5 code on charging and financial assessment.
  • Creating a new requirement in the choice of accommodation regulations (under part 5) so that where a person’s preferred choice of care home cannot be met, the local authority must inform them of the specific reason for this.
  • Using clearer terminology in the care planning and placement regulations, around care and support plans, and in the part 6 code on looked after children, around the review of plans and their relationship with other plans.
  • Changing the regional collaboration footprint under part 9 to establish a separate partnership board for Powys, encompassing the local authority, Powys Teaching Health Board and key local partners.
  • Refining provisions within the part 10 code on advocacy around when a local authority must provide independent professional advocacy and including a reference to advocacy in each of the codes and statutory guidance produced under the Act.

The revised tranche 2 regulations and final codes of practice for parts 2 (General Functions), 3 (Assessing the Needs of Individuals), 4 (Meeting Needs), 5 (Charging and Financial Assessment), 6 (Looked After and Accommodated Children), 10 (Complaints, Representations and Advocacy) and 11 (Miscellaneous and General) of the Act, have now been laid before the Assembly for scrutiny. I will also publish statutory guidance on parts 7 (Safeguarding) and 9 (Co-operation and Partnership) later this month.

The regulations and codes of practice, as laid, can be viewed at:
http://www.assembly.wales/en/bus-home/Pages/Plenary.aspx?category=Laid Document

These, together with the code of practice in relation to measuring social services performance – laid before the Assembly in June and subsequently issued on 5 October – will substantially complete the legislative framework under the Act and provide much of the detail required for implementation. The final code of practice, in relation to part 8 of the Act (the role of Directors of Social Services) is currently out to consultation – closing on 4 December – and will be laid before the Assembly in early 2016, along with regulations in respect of consequential amendments.

Implementation will not be achieved through the making of legislation alone. We rely on a range of key partners to provide the national and regional leadership required to deliver the Act on the ground. Working with our immediate partners – the Welsh Local Government Association, the Welsh NHS Confederation, the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru and the Care Council for Wales – we have prepared a collaborative statement, Delivering the Social Service and Well-being (Wales) Act. This sets out the main activities each partner will take forward over the coming months in progressing the national implementation programme. This joint approach demonstrates the commitment of each partner to ensuring that the Act delivers better, more sustainable social services for the people of Wales.

I have provided financial support to the 6 regional implementation collaboratives for the past 3 years, through the Delivering Transformation Grant (£3m in 2015-16), to enable capacity for implementation planning and preparations to deliver the new duties contained within the Act from 6 April 2016. Each regional collaborative has detailed implementation plans in place, and they are working together, with the support of the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru and the Welsh Local Government Association to ensure consistent national approaches in key delivery areas.

The Care Council for Wales is delivering the National Learning and Development Strategy for the Act funded through a £1m allocation from the Social Care Workforce Development Programme 2015-16, with an additional £7.1m available to local authorities in order to prepare their workforces for the commencement of the Act. As part of this strategy the Care Council is preparing to roll-out bespoke learning materials on the Act for all partners to support the cascade of training within the regions from January 2016. This will be supported by the Care Council’s Information and Learning Hub – an accessible, one-stop-shop for information and resources on the Act, including the collaborative statement.

Shortly we will publish a set of technical briefings summarising the duties placed upon local authorities and their statutory partners by the Act to complement the themed infographics for key stakeholder groups already in circulation. Two major information events for stakeholders are also being held this month, one in North and one in South Wales.

One of the key messages highlighted through consultation has been the need to communicate the changes the Act will make to the general public. To this end, a Welsh Government-led national awareness raising campaign will commence in January 2016, preceded by an easily accessible summary publication developed for a wide range of audiences.

I am grateful to Members for the support provided in making the changes required to improve social services in Wales. Supported by input from the national partnership forum, leadership group and citizens panel, I will continue to ensure all the key aspects of Sustainable Social Services for Wales are taken forward by strong joint leadership from local government, the NHS and private and third sector partners, and that people who have need of care and support in Wales remain at the heart of our programme for change.

When Saturday Comes – Equal access

Below is an article I wrote for the May 2015 edition of When Saturday Comes magazine on disabled access at football grounds.

EQUAL ACCESS

My first away game holds memories of standing room only on a crumbling terrace. It was 1989 and things were very different back then. There were about 500 of us crammed together under a low-hanging roof with obstructive roof supports hindering any decent view as Hereford United and Wrexham played out a turgid goalless draw – apparently.

I’d spent the afternoon craning my neck, deciphering the work of graffiti artists and paddling in piss at Edgar Street. It may sound the stuff of nightmares but it has become a treasured memory from my formative years due to the camaraderie and sense of belonging that was conjured by following my team out of north Wales. It was this notion of shared identity and togetherness that led to more disappointingly brilliant visits to architecturally elderly football grounds during the early nineties. I was part of the crowd.

Fast forward seven years and I’d become a lonely and isolated figure after being diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia – a progressive, genetic disease of the nervous system – which eventually confined me to a wheelchair. I quickly learnt to accept the limitations placed on me by Mother Nature, but I struggled to adapt to the social limitations of a disabled-unfriendly society, which are perfectly illustrated through my experiences as a football spectator.

Away travel quickl0y became a hassle. I could no longer decide on the day of the game whether or not I fancied attending. Instead, I had to telephone the relevant club in advance of my impending ‘pain-in-the-arse’ presence to pre-book tickets. There was one occasion that I was unable to claim a space in a 20,000 capacity stadium despite the official attendance being a paltry 6,729.

When I did manage to secure a match ticket I was determined to travel with my fellow fans on the inaccessible coach, even if this meant losing my dignity by crawling onboard and struggling onto a seat. After expending all my energy with such manoeuvres I couldn’t face the prospect of repeating the process for toilet breaks. Frustratingly this meant no beer for me. To make matters worse, the majority of football grounds didn’t have disabled toilet facilities before the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, meaning that I’d often have to wait until I returned home to relieve myself. Lucky I’ve got a strong bladder.

At least I had the game to look forward to. Annoyingly though, instead of mingling with mates over 90 minutes of social interaction I’d be forced to use a makeshift wheelchair section – wi00th inadequate views from pitch level – in the depths of rival territory and accompanied by hostile stares. What do you do when Karl Connolly converts a late penalty to secure a precious point to the distress of everyone around you? I celebrated. It was worth the bloody nose…

The final whistle signalled another slap in the face. I would regularly travel hundreds of miles to watch my local team but due to my segregation away from the main body of visitors, my efforts would go without applause or recognition by travelling players. It wasn’t their fault. I was merely an invisible needle in a haystack.

My frustrations weren’t just limited to on the road. Things were just as bad at the Racecourse where wheelchair bound fans were plonked at the side of the pitch with only a rickety looking corrugated-iron structure for protection from the elements. It was hard enough to come to terms with my disability without being treated like a second-class citizen by my own club. Instead of accepting this situation, I allowed two club stewards to break all manner of fire regulations and carry me up into the main stand where I could enjoy the game with friends.

These were my experiences in the twentieth century. Surely, the picture is brighter in 2015? It would appear not. More needs to be done to include disabled people – whatever their disability – in the matchday experience. As sports writer David Conn underlined in a recent article, the vast majority of Premier League clubs have not made the required improvements in line with the Equality Act 2010. The money is there to make the necessary architectural improvements to football stadia – as shown in the new builds at Swansea, Leicester and Arsenal – but the socially responsible drive and purpose is missing.

As is often the case, football mirrors society and sporting arenas will continue to be an ugly place for those with disabilities until society at large becomes more accepting and accessible for all. Coalition welfare cuts, a shortage of accessible housing and shocking statistics on disabled hate crime mean I won’t be holding my breath for a return to the inclusion I experienced at Edgar Street…

Out Now – Every Silver Lining has a Cloud

Available from eBay or Amazon.

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Throughout 2011, Nathan Lee Davies undertook a journey around all 12 Welsh Premier League (WPL) football grounds, but before you screw your nose up and continue your search for a good read elsewhere, you need to know that this is only half the story.

The aforementioned Welshman has managed to fuse facts and figures on the beautiful game, with autobiographical stories full of humour and honesty. Tales of depression, disability and divorce are hilariously combined with trips across the border to foreign lands, bladder bursting recollections from Bangor, memories of rainy days in south Wales and much, much more, as Davies attempts to reconnect with his homeland.

Is there entertainment to be found amongst the WPL amateurs? What does it mean to be Welsh in modern Wales? Will our guide ever have sex again? How many people can one man offend? There’s only one way to get inconclusive answers to all of these questions, plus a few more, so what are you waiting for?

A promotional video for Every Silver Lining has a Cloud can be viewed here.

An unofficial Spotify soundtrack for Every Silver Lining has a Cloud can be found here.

Please note that this book includes EXPLICIT CONTENT and parental guidance is advised.