This week, the PCS union gave AMs in Cardiff Bay an insight into the madness of Tory cuts in the public sector.
Wrexham and Porthmadog are due to lose more than 300 jobs in the coming few years as the UK Government closes tax offices and centralises services in Liverpool. The loss to the local economy will be significant but the PCS briefing also explained how expertise in the two sites will be lost. In Porthmadog, the excellent and well-regarded Welsh-language service will go while Wrexham’s deserved reputation for expertise in a range of tax fields is also threatened.
As a centre that merged three different offices, Wrexham has a wealth of experience among its staff that has meant they often go to advise and train others. I suspect few will want to commute to Liverpool on a daily basis and therefore much of this expertise will be lost to us.
To make matters worse, the alternative to face-to-face meetings in local tax offices is considered to be online form filling. Yet many parts of North Wales do not have good enough broadband facilities to allow this. These people who are most affected by closing these offices will now also be those least likely to be able to work online. They would also be furthest from those new super-offices.
It’s not too late to reverse these ill-advised cuts – in fact for the good of Wrexham and the rest of North Wales, it’s vital that we do.
It’s also disappointing that the opportunity to locate the new Welsh Revenue Authority, to administer taxes devolved to the Welsh Government, in Wrexham has been missed. This could have made use of existing skills and expertise in the area and helped re-balance the Welsh economy.
Other public services are also being stretched to the point of snapping after years of Tory austerity.
North Wales Police have lost 8% of their police officers in the past seven years – 132 officers in total. Imagine what those extra numbers could do to tackle the huge challenges of anti-social behaviour and drugs that are plaguing many parts of Flintshire and Wrexham. Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, policing in Wales is not devolved. Official figures from the police show that devolving policing would provide an extra £25m for police forces in Wales – which would go a long way to reversing these devastating cuts. Imagine how much more could be achieved if each local community had its own police officer to deter wrongdoing, catch criminals and reassure the wider population.
Another public service creaking at the seams after years of frozen budgets is the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service. Earlier this year, mass protests, petition and marches saw off a threat to one of Wrexham’s two whole-time fire engines. The loss of another 24 full-time firefighters when the service is struggling to recruit and retain its part-time complement would be devastating, not just to the Wrexham area but to the areas further afield that rely on those skilled and experienced personnel.
Now, with the elections out of the way, it appears the Fire Service is once again looking to cut those jobs and that engine. That’s a step too far and I’ve raised it with the Welsh Government minister Carl Sargeant.
Our emergency services must have enough in reserve to cope with those terrible unexpected emergencies, such as the Grenfell Tower, that demand huge resources. Our public services cannot exist indefinitely in an atmosphere of permanent cuts and ongoing uncertainty. It’s demoralising and – much worse – dangerous.
The Tories don’t seem to have learned the lessons of the past. They are ploughing on with cuts upon cuts. It’s vital that we resist the axe.