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Now we are 6 (months): Part II – The Empire Strikes Back

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Assistant editor Jon Coles continues his countdown of the Herald’s Top Ten Stories since its launch in July 2013.

Having read the paper back and forth while preparing this countdown, I was struck by how many articles make it in to each copy of the Herald. My colleagues on the Courtroom beat have covered cases ranging from offences ranging from rape and serious assault to ones involving car-clocking and mitigation offered more in hope than expectation. Those stories are told with humanity and – where appropriate – with wit. The one that sticks in my mind is the one of the relieved young lady who, on leaving Court, told the District Judge “loves ya, babes!” There are truly some things that cannot be made up.

There is an aphorism that it is bad news that sells papers, but our experience at The Pembrokeshire Herald has been that for every instance of scandal and allegation of sharp practice, there is plenty of evidence that Pembrokeshire’s people are a far closer and warmer community than perhaps even we appreciate. The stories we have carried about acts of charity and kindness are ones that show how much people care about their communities and about other people. One of those makes my personal top five.

I was delighted to be asked to give a speech to the Ladies’ Circle in Walwyn’s Castle, the members’ friendly interest in current affairs was bracing and I hope they enjoyed the evening as much as I enjoyed the comments of one of our publisher’s former teachers who happened to be in the audience that night! Dearie, dearie me… It seems appropriate, somehow, to start this week with one from our publisher’s alma mater

5. Government probe school’s ‘anti-gay’ policy

government probeWe led our eighth edition with the revelation that Tasker Milward School, Haverfordwest had placed a policy document on its website that breached the terms of the Equality Act.

The policy statement echoed the notorious Section 28 brought in by the Thatcher government in 1988. The policy had remained on the School’s website despite the repeal of Section 28 in 2003. The school stated that the policy dated from 2008 and was one that had not been in operation at the school. The school withdrew the policy statement without explaining how a document posted in 2008 referred directly to legislation repealed in 2003.

The news unfolded as part of a larger national story on a controversy that engulfed 45 schools across England and Wales which were discovered to have unlawful policies breaching the Equality Act, either in operation or present on their websites.

We received a strong response to this article, most but not all critical of the school; we had a few (very few) criticising Tasker Milward for taking down the policy when the matter came in to the public eye.

4. Summer Events

summer eventsBUT WHAT A SUMMER OF EVENTS of events in Pembrokeshire it was. Of course, I take full credit for launching the paper at the height of the summer months to enable us to capture the best that summer in Pembrokeshire had to offer, and I am not the person who advised a launch date later in the year…

Iron Man hit our county’s roads, as competitors pushed themselves to the limit in pursuit of the prize.

While Ironman and Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series are relatively new to Pembrokeshire, the cornerstone of the Pembrokeshire Summer is Pembrokeshire County Show. This year the best of Pembrokeshire was on display from livestock to fresh produce, crowds flocked to Withybush Showground to see it all. The smaller local shows and carnivals also enjoyed bumper crowds.

BY THE TIME the last splash had faded at Abereiddy after the cliff diving, the glorious summer had already begun its long descent into damp autumn.

3. Walk on Wales

walk walesAs reported extensively in this newspaper, 11 teams of four people have carried a silver baton around the Welsh coast which has been inscribed with the names of 50 Welsh Guardsmen who have lost their lives in conflicts around the world since WWII. The walk began and ended on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay, after taking in the breath-taking scenery along the length of the Welsh coast. Intrepid walkers raised money for the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal and Combat Stress. 870 miles and 61 days after starting, the last group of walkers reached Cardiff.

We were lucky to have regular updates from our columnist Dennis O’Connor throughout the event. Dennis, who walked and then hobbled his way along the route around the south of our county and then on to Carmarthenshire. But good natured ribbing of our columnist should not obscure the importance of the causes for which Walk on Wales raised money.

Dennis wrote: “Spending time in the company of quiet, dignified veterans of conflicts fought in places such as Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Bosnia, The Falklands and Iraq has been a humbling experience. Being privy to conversations about their experiences of war and conflict, listening to them speak of their fallen comrades and witnessing their frankness about their own mental scars has left me with a long lasting perspective of the ravages war and of those who defend our country.”

2. What next for Witybush?

what nextThe future of health service provision in Pembrokeshire has been the subject of impassioned argument for some years. Each successive quango appointed to run the show has lurched from one crisis to the next while services have been salami-sliced away, all the diminishing the range of health care in Pembrokeshire.

At least Hywel Dda LHB cannot be accused of saying one thing and doing another: they said they wanted to close minor injury units at South Pembs and Tenby and they closed them. They said they wanted a Level 2 special care baby unit at Carmarthen and – by gum – they now “aspire” to have one (whatever that means).

Our old friend, Badger, has expressed fairly trenchant views elsewhere in this paper: none of what he says, however, could be half as trenchant as some of the views expressed at the Picton Centre on 21st November this year, when a packed meeting expressed no confidence in the Health Board and vowed to fight any move of SCBU, maternity and paediatric services from Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest to West Wales General, Carmarthen.

The fallout from local Welsh Labour AM’s failure to support a Senedd motion calling to secure the future of core services at Withybush and for an unambiguous statement from the Local Health Board on Withybush’s future, is not yet quantifiable. The opinion expressed at the time was that, with both Pembrokeshire seats being key Westminster marginals, AM’s votes on the party line may cost their party candidates valuable votes come May 2015.

1. Bryn’s pension

bryns pensionLET’S make no mistake about it: the big story in Pembrokeshire this year has been about Bryn Parry-Jones’ pension pot. As I write this piece, the Wales Audit Office has still not disclosed what it intends to do next with a decision on next steps likely to be given early in New Year.

One thing is certain though, Carmarthenshire County Council has rowed back from the brink of open confrontation with the Audit Office. Sulking and grizzling it may well be, but the tax free bunce it doled out in lieu of pension contributions for its Chief Executive has ceased.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s ruling group are being uncommonly secretive about what their intentions are. Perhaps they are drawing straws to see who will be brave enough to approach their CEO and ask for the money back.

The whole argument is about a decision reached in a meeting in the Chief Executive’s own office to pay him a large wodge of tax free cash to enable him to avoid tax on the very large pension he has built up at Council Tax payers’ expense. That decision was challenged by the Wales Audit Office and that has had the Council reaching for their very expensive briefs. The IPPG Cabinet have said they made the decision to ensure the retention of the Council’s top staff. Bearing in mind that the decision to ensure Bryn had a happy finish to his career was reached at the height of the scandal affecting Pembrokeshire’s education system we can only guess how difficult it was to persuade Bryn to accept the money.

Jon Coles writes: In 2014 I would be surprised if there was not even more on Withybush Hospital and the Local Health Board. A storm is brewing about local health care in Pembrokeshire and there will be plenty of thunder and lightning. With challenging decisions in the offing about local education, that is a fair bet for extensive coverage. The Welsh Government is rumbling about reorganizing the whole apparatus of local government and education in Wales and I do not doubt there will be a great deal of heat and very little light in that argument. In the meantime, the activities of Pembrokeshire County Council’s ruling group seem to be the news gift that keeps on giving.

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Coastal car parks at beauty spots remain closed

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THE RECENT changes in regulations reinforce that movement is restricted to your local area.

This has been identified by the Welsh Government as an approximation of a five mile radius from your home.

Members of two separate households from the same local area (not travelling more than five miles) can now meet outdoors, as long as they maintain social distancing.

You should aim to meet another local household as close to your home as possible. Always take care to maintain social distancing and hand hygiene.

Pembrokeshire County Council car parks at attractions and beauty spots (including public toilets) currently remain closed so you should check before travelling.

They remain closed as a clear message that travel remains restricted, and associated tourism amenities remain closed.

A critical point for all to note is that lifeguards are not currently patrolling beaches and toilets and other facilities are not open.

Full details of the car parking facilities which remain open for the local community can be found on the Council’s website:
https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/emergency-planning/service-changes

Councillor Phil Baker, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure said: “The emphasis is on careful, structured unlocking, and not to put in danger any of the recovery measures that relate to public health and not to undo the safeguarding that lockdown has delivered.

“We will continue to review and monitor this carefully and take cautious, measured steps only to provide the benefits of the eased regulations without putting our residents at risk.”

Motorists are reminded not to contravene parking restrictions – such as yellow lines – where they exist as parking enforcement is still being undertaken.

As with other service areas, car parks will be reviewed in line with current advice.

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Pembrokeshire County Council Leaders coronavirus update

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Council Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Tuesday, 2nd June, as follows:

‘I want to thank everyone for the continued support to myself, Elected Members and officers of the Authority.

‘We have all experienced many challenges over the years but this continued struggle is very testing for all. We continue collectively to work together to ensure we, in Pembrokeshire, remain safe and avoid catching Covid-19

‘It is clear that we still have to remain “local”. There is no remit for travelling outside our local community. You will have read and heard clear guidance on only travelling five miles from home.

‘As always and where you can, please exercise from your home. The more we can do to reduce the spread of the virus, the better we will all fare in the long term.

‘I want to highlight that today marks the 50 th anniversary of the collapse of the Cleddau Bridge. This was indeed a tragedy as lives were lost and it is a sad chapter in Pembrokeshire’s history.

‘As in any incident, people can, and do, rebuild and also learn lessons. After Covid-19 the new “normality” will look different from what we were used to. But we will all move forward and regain Confidence.

‘I’m sure, like you, I question how I should be tackling this issue. Should I be doing more? The answer is simple and direct – we need to ensure social distancing is maintained; wash our hands regularly and listen to the advice given by experts.

‘Remember: ‘Stay Strong and Stay Local.’

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‘Check in, Catch up and Prepare’ All school’s in Wales prepare to enter next phase

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ALL children will have the opportunity to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September”, the Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced today as she published details of the next phase for schools in Wales.

It is proposed that all schools will start the next phase on 29 June, with the term extended by a week, therefore ending on 27 July.

In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.

In each school there will be a phased approach. Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks. It is expected that this will mean, at most, a third of pupils present at any one time, though schools may need time to reach this level of operation.

There will be much smaller classes, providing secure dedicated time with teachers and classmates. This time will include online and personalised classroom experience, getting children and teachers ready for a similar experience in September.

Next week, the Welsh Government will publish guidance to support schools, as well as further and higher education institutions. This will include information on managing their facilities and logistical arrangements, including buildings, resources, cleaning and transport.

The Government is also today publishing a paper from its COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, representing the latest understanding of the virus with respect to children and education.

Further Education colleges are ensuring that appropriate measures are being taken to re-open for face-to-face learning from 15 June. They will prioritise those students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners. This follows close working with Government and the joint trade unions.

Guidance for childcare providers will also be published in the next week, supporting them to increase the numbers of children in attendance alongside schools.

Kirsty Williams said:

“My announcement today gives schools three and a half weeks to continue preparing for the next phase.

“We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September.

“29 June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand. I can also announce that teachers will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.

“The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.

“This is and has been a worrying period for us all. I know that many will feel apprehensive. We have not rushed this work and this decision.

“The three and a half week period before the next phase also gives us time to keep watch on developments elsewhere and provides further check-points to review evidence and the roll-out of testing.

“This is the best practical option that meets my five principles which underpin my decision making.

“I am also convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

“Working together we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for summer and September.”

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