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EXCLUSIVE: Council documents cast doubt on school re-organisation plans

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County Hall

County Hall

THE MINUTES of a meeting of the Council’s own Corporate Management Team (CMT) throw a new light on the local authority’s plans for the future of Pembrokeshire’s schools.

The Herald can report that significant fears exist about the viability of plans to transfer 6th Form education away from local secondary schools should the financial position of Pembrokeshire College change.

A report considered on November 19, 2014 appears to have anticipated the funding crisis that has engulfed Further Education Colleges across Wales. Such is the importance of Pembrokeshire College’s involvement in the scheme that the CMT sounded a warning note about whether the Council’s preferred scheme for secondary education could proceed without it.

“As [the Welsh Government] has withdrawn Match Funding for FE Colleges, the affordability of the scheme will be a key component of the Business Case. In the (hypothetical) scenario that Pembroke College withdraws from the scheme, the Project would, in effect, be a school building replacement Project – and may be less well supported under the terms of the WG 21CS (21st Century Schools) policy.”

The meeting minutes disclose that the person preparing the authority’s business case is on secondment part-time from Pembrokeshire College and “is doing a good job of co-ordinating the dossier of Projects currently within 21CS.”

Rather surprisingly, the CMT were told “Young people of the County, parents, teachers and community groups appear to be well engaged and consulted and the Review Team heard pleasing anecdotes about the behaviour of local residents in their support for the new schools.”

Which rather begs the question, in light of subsequent protests: to whom were the Review Team speaking?

The Herald has a confidential source close to the schools reorganisation programme

The Herald has a confidential source close to the schools reorganisation programme

The CMT considers the engagement of the Full Council in the matter as “a risk”, which suggests its members were rather depending on not too many probing questions being asked. Had they been asked, the minutes reveal that the Council has embarked upon a deeply divisive consultation – which even those behind it concede is now out of date – without waiting to establish the Welsh Government’s position in respect of the type of projects proposed in the consultation document

The fact that the Council has been working hand in glove on the provision of the 21CS programme with a member of the College’s own staff seconded to assist; with the College as a key partner; and with all indications being that the public are being presented with Hobson’s choice on the future of secondary education, the open consultation that the public have been assured would take place appears to be – as we said last Friday – nothing more than a fix.

A confidential source involved with 21CS told The Herald that ‘the College’s continued involvement hinges on how it responds to the current challenges to its budget’.

Letter from the Chairman of the Trustees of Tasker Milward and Picton Charity

Dear Councillor,

I am writing to you in my capacity as Chairman of the Trustees of Tasker Milward and Picton Charity.

Following the Extraordinary General Meeting of the Council at the end of January 2015, the Trustees met with officers of the Council to discuss the Council’s proposals insofar as they affected education in the Haverfordwest area.

It became immediately apparent at that meeting that the officers were under a misapprehension as to the ownership of the land at the site of Tasker Milward School.  It was their understanding that the land on which the old Taskers School for Girls was built (and which under their proposals would form a new Welsh language school) was in the ownership of the Council.  In fact, both sets of buildings that formed the old Taskers school and the old Haverfordwest Grammar School and the land on which they stand (together with other land) are owned by the Charity.  The Council’s officers and solicitors have now acknowledged this to be the case.

It follows that any proposals which the Council may have to utilise some or all of that land and buildings will need the consent of the Trustees and the Charity Commission. 

The Trustees are bound by the terms of a charitable scheme approved by the Charity Commission in 1983.  That scheme stipulates that the old Taskers and Grammar School buildings should be used for the purposes of Tasker Milward School.  The income of the trust is to be applied for the benefit of former pupils of Taskers, Haverfordwest Grammar, Tasker  Milward and Sir Thomas Picton Schools. 

Accordingly, if Tasker Milward School were to close it would be incumbent on the Trustees to formulate an alternative scheme for applying the assets and income of the Trust.  That scheme would have to be approved by the Charity Commissioners. Such a scheme might, for instance, include the provision of educational or recreational facilities for Haverfordwest or the sale of the Tasker Milward site and the investment of the capital thus arising, which would be a substantial sum.

The formulation of the scheme would be a matter for the Trustees who would need to consult widely with those affected.   That would include not only the Council but also the Governors, staff and parents of Tasker Milward and Sir Thomas Picton Schools.   The outcome of that consultation obviously cannot be forecast. 

There are further legal difficulties in that the present Trust is effectively confined to the Haverfordwest area.  The proposals which are the subject of statutory consultation would require the use of the Charity’s assets to benefit the whole of the County.  Furthermore, it is not permissible to use the Charity’s assets for the fulfilment of the statutory obligations of the Local Authority.

Resolving these issues will be time consuming.  The Trustees have sought to engage at an early stage with the Officers of the Council but our attempts to do so have been rebuffed.   External solicitors acting for the Council have unhelpfully written to the Trustees to say that no discussions can take place until September. 

It may be that these issues are incapable of resolution in a way that accommodates the present proposals which are out for statutory consultation.  Even if they can be resolved, the discussions and negotiations and the subsequent consultations and preparation and approval of the scheme by the Charity Commission are likely to take a considerable amount of time.  It is unfortunate that six months will have been lost due to the unwillingness of the Council’s Officers to engage with the Trustees. 

It would have been preferable for the Council and the Trustees to have a common set of objectives for secondary education in the Haverfordwest area rather than the Trustees having been excluded from the negotiations between the Council and the Pembrokeshire College.  It is in our view not too late for the Council to rectify this, but that does require the withdrawal of the present proposals and inclusive discussions between all interested parties. 

 Yours sincerely,

 Maurice Hughes, Chairman of the Tasker Milward and Picton Charity

 

 

 

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Welsh Guards sergeant shot dead during Castlemartin live-fire training exercise

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A BRITISH ARMY sergeant was killed on Thursday night (Mar 4) in a shooting accident at Castlemartin Training Area, The Herald can confirm.

The solider was training with live ammunition, ahead of a planned deployment to Iraq this summer.

Five police cars and an ambulance were seen screaming through Pembroke towards the incident at approximately 10pm towards the incident.

A coastguard helicopter, CG187, was scrambled to the scene, and hovered near Bosherston for a while, but was stood down and returned to base.

The Herald has contacted the MOD for a comment, who said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on the 4th of March.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

THIS STORY IS UPDATING

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Pembrokeshire County Council bills Home Office for Penally camp costs

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THE COUNCIL has sent an invoice for more than £80,000 to the Home Office.

It is to cover some of the costs that the local authority has incurred in connection with the Penally Asylum Seeker Centre, near Tenby.

Following a question on the issue from Cllr Jonathan Preston at Full Council the Council have confirmed that a bill has been sent.

The Member for Penally ward asked: “Please can the relevant Cabinet Member provide a breakdown of all costs to this authority which have been incurred in providing staff, services and other associated resources to Penally camp since its re-purpose by the Home Office last September?”

Council leader Cllr. David Simpson confirmed that on February 22 Pembrokeshire County Council submitted an invoice for £83, 858 which includes £65,564 in staff costs, £12,799 of specialist support and £5,495 for works such as barriers.

Pembrokeshire County Council is currently awaiting payment, the Authority confirmed.

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Hospitality sector welcomes Budget boost

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IT HAS been so long it seems since we could stand at a bar and enjoy a well-earned pint, but now we are on the road back to normality, the Herald has spoken to some of those in the hospitality sector who have been asked to close. We wanted to know what the owners in businesses in these sectors locally thought of the budget and if Rishi Sunak had done enough to help them.

We first spoke to a Milford Haven restaurant business. Owner of Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, Dan Mills said that the budget was not a silver bullet to fix all problems but said that the budget had gone a fair way to delivering what many in the Pembrokeshire hospitality sector have been calling for in recent weeks.

Dan Mills said: “The biggest risk many of us were facing was the cliff edge of a VAT increase, the end of the Furlough Scheme and a return to full business rates, I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised this and taken action on all fronts.

“With talk of the Welsh Government restricting us to outside trading for an initial period, the flexibility that the Furlough Scheme brings will be a huge help to ensure staff retain their jobs.

“I was also delighted to see that the Chancellor has provided funding to Wales to ensure that we benefit from a further 12 months of Business Rate Relief here in Pembrokeshire, that’s money that many of us can instead invest into restarting our businesses.

“I hope that the conversation that unfortunately began due to Covid between politicians and the Pembrokeshire hospitality and tourism sector can continue long beyond this crisis, it seems that through some open and honest feedback we are making real progress.

Award winning gastro-pub The Griffin Inn is well known throughout Wales and has received many national reviews. Their reputation puts them in a strong position once they are allowed to re-open. We spoke to Sian and Simon Vickers about the budget.

Simon Vickers, co-owner is also a director of Visit Pembrokeshire. He told The Herald: “I think the budget was very positive for the hospitality industry with the reduction in VAT being the biggest help.

“Overall I feel the government have supported the industry amazingly

In regard to tax on alcohol, Simon said: “Duty has been frozen It would have been nice to have seen a cut in it. Whether there’s a cut or not the breweries always increase their prices so in all honesty it never affects us.”

The ongoing financial support has been welcomed by industry group CAMRA, The Campaign or Real Ale, but the organisation said that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity to lower beer duty to save our pubs.

Their national chairman Nik Antona issued a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald saying: “Freezing alcohol duty is obviously better than a rise. However, CAMRA had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a cut in duty on beer served on tap in pubs and social clubs to benefit consumers and help the great British pub recover and thrive in the difficult months and years ahead by being able to compete with supermarket alcohol.

“The Government’s commitment to review alcohol duties in the coming months is welcome. CAMRA will continue to call for a lower rate of duty for beer served in pubs – an option available to the Government now we have left the European Union.

“Reducing tax on beer served in pubs and social clubs would encourage responsible drinking in a supervised, community setting – as well as boosting jobs and local economies, helping consumers and benefiting pubs and licensees.”

On financial support announced, Nik commented: “Cutting VAT as pubs begin to reopen, and reducing it until April next year, means they can now start benefiting from that cut – but CAMRA believes this VAT cut should be extended to alcohol so that traditional locals that don’t serve food can benefit too.

“The extension of furlough until September and new grants of up to £18,000 are very welcome. However, pubs are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at pre-COVID trading levels due to outside space and then table service only indoors. The beer and pubs sector will need further support over the coming months, over and above new loans, to help them get back on their feet until there is a full and proper re-opening and they can trade at full capacity.

“Extending the business rates holiday until the end of June will help keep the wolves from the door for many English pubs, with the two-thirds reduction for the rest of the financial year a welcome step. However, given how tough it will be for many pubs we believe the 100% cut in business rates needs to be extended for a full 12 months as has already happened in Scotland.”

Picture: Simon Vickers, Griffin Inn, Dale

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