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Concern over learning centre closures

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A CONTROVERSIAL decision recently made by Pembrokeshire County Council’s cabinet members to close down Community Learning Centres across the county has been called-in for further scrutiny by opposition councillors.

Four CLCs are set to close in two phases with Pembroke Dock and Fishguard centres closing down from August this year, and Tenby and Haverfordwest from August next year. They host a diverse array of day and evening courses in crafts, languages, art and basic skills, taught by a range of tutors. Following the centre closures the council plans to relocate these classes to other community buildings.

Disposals of the closed buildings are to return to the Cabinet under separate reports in the future, whilst Crymych’s learning centre will be retained by the authority as a Welsh language hub under an arrangement which Cabinet decided ‘will be kept under review’.

The report before cabinet members at their February 9 meeting stated that in January the Welsh Government announced funding cuts of £85,600 from April this year, and there was a likelihood of future cutbacks.

Cllr Jacob Williams has criticised the report, telling the Herald that, although the decision on the face of it was about saving money, he found it bizarre that ‘no other pound sign is contained within the cabinet report’.

When he became aware of the scale of cabinet’s decision to approve the closures, the complete lack of consultation, and what he calls the ‘wafer-thin report’ it was based on, East Williamston representative Cllr Williams set about the formal process of calling the application in for further scrutiny. He did so with the support from fellow County Councillor Jonathan Preston of Penally, Tessa Hodgson of Lamphey, Viv Stoddart of Milford Haven and Peter Stock of Haverfordwest.

Within the call-in requisition supported by his four colleagues, Cllr Williams states that the ‘consultation to date on all aspects of the closures has been inadequate’, and that ‘no financial assessment’ has been undertaken about the costs for room rentals for classes once the centres are closed.

One argument put forward within the call-in is that classes ‘are in jeopardy of being lost altogether if suitable rooms cannot be found’, and profits currently generated by classes ‘could be diminished’ by alternative room rental costs.

“I am not convinced that the decision to close centres has been made with a strong enough case or that all other options have been assessed, including the possibility of charge increases,” Cllr Williams writes.

As part of their decision on February 9, Cabinet members noted that the Tenby CLC was located in the same building as the youth club and library, and as a clause gave a reassurance that the youth provision in Tenby would be protected but with no guarantee that it would remain in the same building.

This reassurance offers little comfort for Cllr Williams because he says no other potential buildings have been identified by the council for the youth club or library to move into, and he believes if the learning centre closes it will lead to the youth centre closing, and fears that as a knock-on effect, eventually the library will face the axe for the same reason.

Cllr Williams told the Herald: “I won’t stand by and let the residents of the area take this on the chin without a fight, and I’m grateful to the councillors who signed my call-in without which it would not have been possible. In the south of the county Tenby Library serves a very wide community. No building has yet been identified to relocate it to, and with the removal of the learning centre which takes up the vast majority of the same building, and then very possibly the youth club moving out or closing its wing of the building, the clock is going to be ticking for the library in its current location at Greenhill Avenue which I’m sure the council is eyeing up for developers. I’m aware that there is outcry over the decision in Fishguard for similar reasons, which is another reason why I was so keen to call this decision in. The matter should have been considered as part of a wider review and strategy by the council with the whole of the county’s community services in mind, and not as some innocuous report slipped into a cabinet meeting agenda without any consultation, dressed-up as a necessary response to funding cuts from Cardiff Bay. Cardiff Bay’s cuts don’t help but it’s simply dishonest to blame this decision all on that – there’s just no strategy from County Hall other than to mothball the buildings without any consultation and that’s just not good enough.”

Cllr Jonathan Preston who put his signature to the call-in bid told the Herald: “The cabinet’s decision has been made with seemingly little basis on the facts. Community learning centres are a hub of activity and provide learning opportunities for all. It’s a fact that of the 22 councils in Wales, Pembrokeshire is the second largest provider of adult and community learning with enrolment of 6,000 each year. We should be proud of this but before long we could be near the bottom of the pile in Wales if the learning centre closures mean classes are unable to continue.”

Lamphey representative Cllr Tessa Hodgson who sits as an unaffiliated independent member told our reporter: “I’m grateful to Cllr Williams for taking the initiative and calling-in this important and sweeping decision made by cabinet. I was very happy to lend my support and sign the requisition forms and I welcome the opportunity for councillors to scrutinise this matter in detail as well as the ramifications of it, which cabinet members failed to do on February 9.”

Meanwhile Cllr Vivien Stoddart who represents Milford Haven Hubberston Ward as an unaffiliated independent member said: “I was pleased to support Cllr Jacob Williams in his bid to call-in Cabinet’s controversial decision for further scrutiny, which will see most of the county’s five adult learning centres close down. The report to February’s cabinet outlining the plans to reduce the council’s input to the centres was just three sides of A4; light on detail, facts, and figures. These cuts in services will impact on communities, and Tuesday’s scrutiny meeting will enable councillors to assess the potential effects on the people they represent.”

One of the claims made within the report approved by the cabinet which the councillors object to is that ‘there will be no impact from these changes on the range of courses or opportunities that Learning Pembrokeshire offers’.

Within the call-in request it is argued: “Given the uncertainty over the future locations of buildings and the facilities that may or not be available, I don’t believe this claim is sustainable and the viability of all current classes switching to alternative buildings appears not to have been assessed.”

Cllr Williams’ call-in request triggered a joint extraordinary meeting of both the county council’s Older Persons, Health and Well-Being Overview and Scrutiny Committee and its Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee, to be held on Tuesday March 3, which was arranged by the newly promoted Head of Legal and Committee Services, Claire Incledon.

The joint committee consisting 26 councillors is unable to amend cabinet’s decision of February 9 or make a fresh one, but it can refer the decision back to cabinet with recommendations for changes, one of which has already been suggested by officers in response to the call-in.

Within the agenda for Tuesday’s joint overview and scrutiny meeting, Kate Evan-Hughes, the authority’s Director for Children and Schools, states that ‘there is some validity’ to Cllr Williams’ point concerning the failure to adequately assess the impact of Cabinet’s decision and the short time frame for closures.

Ms Evan-Hughes recommends that cabinet should be advised to revise its decision to delay the closures planned for 2015 so that no closures will take place until August 2016, which she states: ‘Will allow more time for community engagement in the process’ and for ‘the potential impact of building closures’ to be assessed alongside the planning stage for the 2016/17 academic year.

Cllrs Williams, Preston, Hodgson, Stoddart and Stock urge anybody who shares their concerns over the closures and the lack of evidence the decision was taken on, to come along to Tuesday’s scrutiny committee meeting which, like all council meetings, is open to the public.

It takes place at County Hall, Haverfordwest at 10am on Tuesday March 3.

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Tragedy above Milford Haven takeaway

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DYFED POWYS POLICE has confirmed that a 20-year-old male passed away in Milford Haven last Saturday, April 17.

Police were called to the USA Fried Chicken store on Charles Street at around 1:30pm but have said there are no suspicious circumstances.

A Herald reporter was at the scene and witnessed a number of police cars and an ambulance while plain-clothed officers were also seen.

HM Coroner has been informed.

A Welsh Ambulance Service spokesperson added: “We were called to Charles Street in Milford Haven on Saturday 17 April at approximately 1.34pm to reports of a medical emergency. We attended the scene with one emergency ambulance where we assisted colleagues from the police.”

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Health

Tavernspite School the ‘healthiest of schools despite the pandemic’

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THE STAFF, governors, parents, and of course, the children of Tavernspite Community Primary School are delighted to gain the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes National Quality Award for an incredible 5th time after a recent and very rigorous assessment.

The school is already well known and highly regarded for its outstanding work in developing the health and wellbeing of all members of its school community. To achieve this prestigious recognition in the midst of a pandemic is all the more impressive. 

Health and Wellbeing at the school is led by teacher, Lauren Arthur, who has done an incredible job preparing for this re-assessment and raising the profile of the Healthy Schools scheme.

The assessor Mrs Lynne Perry, enjoyed a virtual tour and presentation by Year 3 pupils who took great pleasure in proudly showing Mrs Perry all the wonderful work the school has done to ensure its children are safe, happy with high levels of emotional and physical wellbeing.

In her report, Mrs Perry wrote, ‘Tavernspite School continues to be an outstanding health promoting school. The health promoting school ethos is evident across the whole school population and it runs seamlessly throughout everything that the school does. Tavernspite School continues to give high priority to promoting and enhancing the health and well-being of the whole school community.’

The school received fantastic support from Mrs Liz Western, Senior Public Health Officer and Lead for Healthy Schools and Pre-schools, Pembrokeshire, to whom they are very grateful.

Head teacher Kevin Phelps said, ‘We were delighted to receive this award for the fifth time, particularly considering the experiences we have all been through these past twelve months. Health and wellbeing has never been so important and we are proud to be leading the way like this.’

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News

Joinery learner through to Screwfix Trade Apprentice of the Year Finals

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PEMBROKESHIRE COLLEGE joinery learner, Conor Ratcliff has made it through to the final ten in this year’s Screwfix Trade Apprentice of the Year competition.

Now in its seventh year, the competition celebrates the next generation of tradespeople as they start out on their career. With over 2,500 nominations, Conor was shortlisted to the top 30 where he had to deliver a video presentation to industry-leading judges and trade body representatives. Judged on professionalism, creativity, innovation, enthusiasm and knowledge of their trade, Conor impressed the judges and is now in the final 10.  

Simon Jackson, Screwfix Customer and Digital director, commented: “Every year we are amazed by the outstanding quality of entrants and, this year, we are on the lookout for apprentices who go above and beyond to succeed within their chosen trade.

“We’ve seen how this career-boosting accolade and £10,000 prize bundle helps kickstart an apprentice’s career. I’d like to wish everyone through to this stage the best of luck!”

The prize package includes everything a future tradesperson may need to start up their own business including £5,000 of tools, a £3,000 training budget and £2,000 worth of technology. The college where they study will also receive £2,000.

Conor is thrilled to have made it through to the finals and commented: “I am extremely honoured to have made it this far in the competition and I am very excited for the final event. It would be an amazing opportunity for me, if I won this competition.

“I hope it encourages more people to consider an apprenticeship in a trade, the Carpentry and Joinery department have been incredibly supportive during my studies.”

The Final is due to take place imminently where the judges will conduct an online interview with the ten finalists before selecting and announcing their overall winner.

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