Anglesey councillor criticised after saying that buying house for kids in care is ‘waste of money’
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
The chair of an influential council committee has defended branding plans to buy a house to be used as a “safe haven” for children taken into care as “a waste of money”.
Cllr Aled Morris Jones raised the ire of members the council’s ruling group after publicly condemning plans to buy a property at a cost of approximately £400,000 in his home village of Rhosybol and convert it into a Small Group Home.
Known by Anglesey Council as ‘Cartrefi Clyd’, such facilities are staffed by carers and designed to offer a family-like setting for children which have been taken into the authority’s care, usually on a temporary basis as they wait for a more permanent home.
With many children having had to be sent over the border, where no Welsh language provision is available, their establishment has allowed several youngsters to continue living on the island and receive their education locally while also avoid the need for private agency placements which can often cost £200,000 a year per child.
A report presented to last week’s Corporate Scrutiny Committee meeting confirmed that with three facilities already operating on the island, plans were in the pipeline for others at Llangristiolus, Rhosybol and Holyhead.
According to Anglesey Council, with the cost of purchasing the properties being funded thanks to the Welsh Government Integrated Care Fund (ICF), their establishment is also resulting in savings of approximately £84,000 a year for every child.
While initially hoped that the SGH’s could be taken out of the authority’s existing housing stock, it was said that Care Inspectorate Wales ruled out such a move due to strict regulations regarding the sizes of the rooms.
Following the council leader’s verbal report during last week’s meeting, Cllr Morris Jones said: “I spotted one error in the report, there is no Cartref Clyd in Rhosybol up to now, you’re still in the process of purchasing that property.
“So you haven’t finished wasting £400,000 yet.”
But in response the leader, Llinos Medi, said there was no error in the report and rejected claims it represented a waste of money, reminding members that the homes would be purchased thanks to the ICF while also helping keep children needing support on the island.
Further claims by Cllr Morris Jones that the leadership was “hiding” behind the lack of “call-in” sparked protests by some members, with Cllr Nicola Roberts noting:
“How is it appropriate for a scrutiny committee chair, who’s supposed to represent us all, to make such ugly comments on something this important?
“The chair of our committee shouldn’t be acting like this as you don’t represent the views of the rest of the committee.”
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting, Cllr Morris Jones clarified his comments by noting he was not opposed to the principle of
Cartrefi Clyd but had his own concerns over the value for money represented by the homes that had been earmarked for purchase, particularly the one in his own village of Rhosybol.
But Plaid Cymru councillor Gary Pritchard, who also raised concerns over the chair’s comments during the meeting, said: “In a week where the vast majority of us will be raising money and donating to Children in Need, I was saddened to hear Cllr Morris Jones use his position as chair to decry one of Anglesey Council’s most important projects.
“As a relatively new councillor it was a real eye opener for me when I realised some of the most vulnerable children in local authority care were having to be placed in accommodation far away from Anglesey.
“The Cartrefi Clyd programme has ensured that these youngsters can continue to live on the island, maintaining their links with their community and ensuring they remain in Welsh language education.
“The Social Services Department can take great pride in the Cartrefi Clyd programme, so to hear a former Social Services Portfolio holder call the programme a “waste of money” was a shock.
“We have a duty of care to the most vulnerable people in our communities and even putting to one side the fact that the scheme actually saves Anglesey Council money, it’s hugely disappointing to hear opposition councillors making such statements.”
But clarifying his view Cllr Morris Jones, a Liberal Democrat member for Twrcelyn who sits with the Annibynnwyr Môn group, said he was seeking “value for money.”
“I was not given the opportunity to finish my remarks as members of the administration shouted me down,” he added.
“I support Cartrefi Clyd in appropriate, sustainable areas and where they help everyone, but when public money is not being used properly then that needs to be questioned.
“The problem for us is the ruling group is not ready for people to ask questions, they just have to shout people down before finishing their comments.
“Two houses are in the process of being purchased in Rhosybol and Llangristiolus at a cost of somewhere in the region of £800,000 in total.
“This could have purchased more than two brand new houses in more sustainable areas and more local services, not located out in rural areas.
“I’m in favour of Cartrefi Clyd but in the right places.”
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