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Jamie Adams: “Something’s got to give”

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got to giveCONTINUING our interview with Council leader Jamie Adams about the County Council’s 21st Century Schools programme, we spoke about the Council’s plan for funding the scheme and future of secondary education in Pembrokeshire.

The question of funding

“We are lucky in Pembrokeshire,” begins Jamie Adams. He pauses. “No, not lucky: we have been very well-managed. As I said before, we are looking at using our assets more efficiently and disposing of part of our estate to release capital and reduce expenditure. The requirement for funding the schools programme has significantly increased in cost after the Welsh Government reduced its own input into it

“Our plan as a Council is to get one third or so of our funding from the Welsh Government, to raise one third of the funding through efficiency savings and asset sales, and to raise the rest by prudential borrowing. We are not looking, at this time, at models like the Private Finance Initiative or Public Private Partnerships.

“We are able to access prudential borrowing, because of the way we have managed the Council’s finances and thought strategically about the future. In the long-term prudential borrowing is likely to cost us a good deal less than other finance options

“While I am confident about funding the schools programme that does not mean there are not challenges we need to face: particularly about secondary education.

Populating the classrooms

“When we look at our schools provision for the 11 plus group, we have to look at the population of Pembrokeshire, more particularly its distribution.”

He gestures to the large map of Pembrokeshire on the wall to underline his point:

“We have eight secondary schools in Pembrokeshire and 1,000 spare spaces. In the future we are projected to have greater additional capacity. We have an unsustainable secondary education provision and it is clear something has to give.

“As to how our future provision will look: that is a matter for consultation. But we will have to make tough decisions and they should not be put off. The Welsh Government has given a very clear lead on reducing the amount of the education budget spent on spare capacity within the system. In a time when public finances are stretched we cannot afford to maintain underused buildings, under-occupied classrooms and excess school places.

“With those surplus places, we are spending a disproportionate amount of scarce resources in circumstances where there can be no positive return for that money in terms of outcomes for students. As an authority, our focus is very firmly on getting the best outcomes we can for investing in the education system.

“I understand the concerns of local communities. Other Cabinet members and I went out to listen to them and to get the views of Pembrokeshire’s people on how we could improve our services and deliver them more efficiently. As part of that exercise, I went to Saint Davids. There has been a lot of speculation about the future of Ysgol Dewi Sant and very strong local feeling has been expressed in the press and at public meetings. People who spoke to me there: well, it was not all about “don’t close the school”. Parents and other members of the community in Saint Davids were concerned about putting viable options forward for the future.

“It would be nice to have a federal structure with different parts of the curriculum delivered on different sites,” he gestures at the map again, “travel times between the scattered sites make that unsustainable and impractical.

A new plan for Pembrokeshire

“Of course, as a Council we have to make decisions in relation to the County-wide provision of secondary education. We have to consider what opportunities exist to improve our secondary provision and offer a broad and enriching education to kids.

“We have to be straight here: some pupils do not achieve academically in the current system. We want to provide opportunities for varied training and education post-14 in conjunction with Pembrokeshire College. Again, this is focussing on outcomes for all Pembrokeshire children.

“Traditionally, in my view, education in Pembrokeshire has been a ‘comfortable’ place to be. We’ve achieved ‘comfortable’ outcomes. My personal opinion is that for too long there has been a focus on obtaining a degree as the be all and end all of education. I profoundly disagree with that position, there has to be a good pathway for those who wish to follow vocational or career-based education and for those who are less-academically inclined.

“We have been in discussions with Pembrokeshire College about what we can do to improve the situation for 14-19 year olds. Those discussions have been frank on both sides: we have acknowledged and the College has acknowledged that there are things we do well and things we do not as well.

“That honesty and those discussions mean that we are in the process of forging a partnership that will substantially change the provision of education in Pembrokeshire for pupils after the age of 14. That partnership is based on us complementing what each other do.

“Every pupil deserves the chance to make the best of their abilities. I want to make sure that we improve the outcomes not only for those academically gifted students who progress on to higher education and go on to well paid, professional careers. We will continue to encourage those students and be pleased for their success. Outcomes exist, however, that cannot be measured simply in terms of only academic success. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a successful vocational education.

“What I want education in Pembrokeshire to achieve is to enrich learning, to motivate teachers and to achieve outcomes that bring out the very best in all of our children, be that in terms of academic success or otherwise. We want our children to be motivated to succeed wherever their strengths lie and to give them chances to do so, whether those strengths are academic, entrepreneurial, arts, or skilled trades.

“We are thinking for the medium to long-term: not quick fixes or fiddling around the edges. Some other local authorities have gone for easy solutions. I believe, in the future they will regret not taking the opportunities that the 21st Century Schools programme has offered them.”

It is time to go. We exchange pleasantries, shake hands and head our separate ways. As I head down the stairs, I thank the Council’s press officer who arranged the meeting.

Here at The Pembrokeshire Herald, we are sometimes critical of the Council and its IPPG leadership. We have occasionally suggested that they have got things wrong. But Jamie Adams has been brisk, professional and thoughtful – especially about some of the left-field questions thrown at him.

As I head out into a December evening, I reflect that Jamie Adams’ attitude to the future of Pembrokeshire’s education system is in marked contrast to the squally weather. He seems very certain, very confident.

Driving off into the rain, I can’t help thinking about the storm of public opinion as schools programme unfolds. It will be interesting, to interview him again when consultations have concluded, decisions have been made and the public have given their reaction to see how events have influenced the Council’s vision.

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Pembrokeshire cottage letting agency offers free holidays to NHS heroes

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PEMBROKESHIRE-BASED holiday letting agency St Brides Bay Cottages has teamed up with its property owners and Operation Recuperation to offer free holidays to frontline healthcare workers. The family-run firm has announced the scheme to say thank you to the healthcare heroes who are risking their lives to keep the UK safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The generous initiative will see healthcare professionals enjoy a well-deserved break in picturesque St Davids, Solva, Newgale or Porthgain, after the crisis is over. The scheme is part of Operation Recuperation, a UK-wide campaign launched to gift future stays in beautiful places to frontline healthcare providers.

Sam Sibbald, manager of St Brides Bay Cottages, based in Solva, said: “This is our way of showing our dedicated healthcare workers that we appreciate everything they’re doing in such difficult circumstances.

“I saw first-hand the pressure the NHS is under, when my dad had a stay in hospital last year. I could tell how pushed they were on a normal day-to-day basis, let alone with having COVID-19 to deal with. Now my dad is at home, needing carers every day, and I can see, more than ever, how much we rely on the people who look after us.

“We’re taking part in Operation Recuperation thanks to the generosity of our cottage owners. By gifting stays to these dedicated workers, we’ll be helping them to recover from the fight against coronavirus.”

Several cottage owners, whose properties are let by St Brides Bay Cottages, have come forward to donate stays in their holiday homes.

Among them is Sheila Morgan, who together with her husband Chris, owns The Anchorage, a two-bedroom apartment in Solva. She said: “As a retired nurse with medical staff in the family, I can fully appreciate the strains and stresses all NHS staff are going through at present. Thank you all for your sterling work. Hopefully the peace, quiet and Pembrokeshire air will aid recuperation.”

Debbie and Patrick Bowie-Moore, the owners of five-bedroom holiday home Mount Pleasant, in Solva, said: “The healthcare workers have offered their all, and it’s our privilege to give a family – who may have been kept apart – the opportunity to stay in Mount Pleasant as a massive thank you.”

Simon Baker, who owns Cefn y Mor, a four-bedroom property in Solva, said: “We are backing the Operation Recuperation project because we have family members on the frontline of the NHS, and know what risks they are taking, and what effort they are putting into saving lives. Our only effort is to stay at home and avoid infection. A small price to pay.”

Jim and Maureen Dale, whose three-bedroom holiday home, May Cottage, is situated on a grade II-listed farm, near St Davids, said: “Rarely do we get an opportunity to say thank you to the staff at the NHS – we tend to take the service so much for granted. Now the chips are down and there they all are, on the frontline looking after us all. Thank you all at the NHS.”

David and Judith James, who are offering a free stay at their converted watermill, Melin Llanrhian, near Porthgain, said: “We’re delighted to be able to support Operation Recuperation as a very small thank you to everyone in the NHS who has worked so hard in such challenging circumstances.”

Operation Recuperation is collecting donations – in room nights and cash – to give free stays to frontline healthcare staff, once the virus restrictions have been lifted.

Rachel Sherwood, who launched Operation Recuperation, said: “A huge thank you to St Brides Bay Cottages for proudly supporting Operation Recuperation and to the cottage owners who have donated stays in this stunning part of Wales, despite very challenging times.

“Sometime in the not-too-distant future, a number of our frontline healthcare staff will be enjoying long clifftop walks, fresh seafood, lazy days on the beach and cosy evenings in sea-view cottages.”

To find out more about St Brides Bay Cottages and Operation Recuperation, visit: https://www.stbridesbaycottages.com/, email enquiries@stbridesbaycottages.com or call 01437 720027.

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Council pays out £2.5m in business grants to date

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has revealed that since Wednesday, 1st April, it has already paid out £2.5 million in grants to local businesses.

The Authority’s Cabinet Member for Economy, Paul Miller, said Council staff had been working hard to make the Covid-19 business grants payable as soon as possible

Explained Councillor Miller: “Payments started on Wednesday this week for those who qualify for grants linked to the National Non-Domestic Ratings (NNDR) system. We have already paid out around £2.5 million in grants to local businesses.

“Daily payment runs are being made in order that these can get into business bank accounts as soon as possible.

“We cannot unfortunately acknowledge receipt of applications but, once authorised, businesses will be emailed and the grant will be paid within two to three working days.”

Councillor Miller added: “If there are any issues with a grant application, or information is missing, a Council officer will be in touch to discuss the matter. A dedicated team has been set up to do this.”

For further business advice refer to the Council’s Business pages which can be accessed via the following link: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/business-advice-and-support

This will enable access to the application form for the above grants, provide answers to frequently asked questions and links to further sources of advice through HMRC, Welsh Government, Department of Work and Pensions, Public Health Wales and other organisations.

For further enquiries not answered through the business pages, email: covid19@pembrokeshire.gov.uk and an officer will respond. Please view the business pages first.

For those who don’t qualify for the grants, Welsh Government will soon be making details available of how business can access other funding through an Economic Resilience Fund.

Details will be available on the Council’s business pages as soon as they are released by Welsh Government.

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Man issued with two COVID-19 fines in 24 hours as police thank those following new legislation

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A man has been issued with two fines in 24 hours for flouting Coronavirus legislation, as police thank those who are following the new rules.

Dyfed-Powys Police officers in Carmarthenshire stopped the 22-year-old from Llanelli twice for being out of the house without a reasonable excuse.

A report was made on April 1 that three men were breaching the COVID-19 legislation by gathering in Llanstephan. A woman who had attempted to film the men reported that they had stolen her phone and driven away.

Officers quickly linked the car to a suspect and traced it driving towards Carmarthen and then Llanelli, and a roads policing unit was directed to the area.

The car was stopped, and the two occupants – a 22-year-old from Llanelli, and a 18-year-old from Carmarthen – were arrested on suspicion of theft. They were also both issued with tickets for COVID-19 offences.

T/Chief Inspector Tom Sharville said: “We are taking the new legislation seriously, and would like to thank the majority of people who are staying home to keep others safe.

“The measures are difficult to adapt to, but it is important that we stay at home to save lives.

“However, there is a minority out there who are under the impression the legislation does not apply to them, and are flouting the law.

“This was the second fine one of these men was issued with in 24 hours, after he showed a clear disregard for all guidelines.”

The men were arrested on suspicion of theft of a mobile phone, and were released under investigation pending further enquiries.

For information about the COVID-19 legislation, and answers to many frequently asked questions, visit https://bit.ly/DPPCovid19

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