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Cabinet supports a trust despite concerns

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Pembrokeshire County Council: New education ‘Vision’ revealed
PEMBROKESHIRE County Council’s Cabinet has agreed, in principle, to support the formation of a charitable trust to run its cultural and leisure services despite members expressing concerns over the proposed new model.

The option to go with a charitable trust was the preferred option of consultancy firm Winckworth Sherwood which drew up five options for the future delivery of the services.

Among those options was to retain the status quo and that appeared as one of the favourites from the public consultation.

However, Cabinet were concerned that if they went with the status quo, there would be more cuts to services in the future.

UNISON also submitted a petition to the Council which was entitled ‘Stop the Outsourcing of Council Services’ in order to try and sway the Cabinet’s decision.

Cabinet ignored the views of UNISON and the public and voted unanimously to support, in principle, the preferred option of a trust.

Further work will now be undertaken to establish governance of the trust, financial and staff arrangements.

Speaking at the Cabinet meeting on Monday (Oct 31) Council Leader Jamie Adams said that the Council were at the end of the road in terms of protecting service users from the effects of savings and added they would need to look at different methods of providing the services.

Cllr Elwyn Morse, Cabinet member for Culture, Sport and Leisure, spoke of the savings that had been achieved since 2012/13 stating that Cultural services had saved over £747,000 due to a number of measures.

Leisure services had also increased its income by £432,000 since the same year and added that further rises in charges would risk losing membership and future visits.

Cllr Morse added: “The consideration of an alternative model of service delivery has to be a better alternative than the almost inevitable loss of services.”

Cllr Keith Lewis spoke of the consultation period and how keeping services in house was the preferred option but said: “It is up to Cabinet to decide whether we can do nothing and maintain it as it is.”

Cllr Adams asked about the performance of trusts elsewhere and he was told that many other authorities had gone down this route and that they were generally successful.

He went on to say that he was keen to ensure a county wide leisure service moving forward.

Mr Phillip Hodgson, Interim Director of Social Services and Leisure, said that every effort would be made to mitigate the threat of future cuts.

Cllr Simon Hancock said: “In an ideal world, it would be nice to have things kept in house but the paper makes it abundantly clear that doing nothing is not an option. People who use the archives, leisure services, libraries, when they use that service they are not going to ask themselves, what’s the governance model? They want to make sure the service is kept.

“This journey has been taken by lots of different authorities so it is a national solution to what is a national problem.

“If we close services it will have a very detrimental impact on the wellbeing of Pembrokeshire residents. Access to culture, leisure is central to people’s sense of wellbeing if we do nothing. Keeping the service open is the most important objective of this whole exercise.”

Cllr David Lloyd said: “I speak on behalf of a community that knows what it is like to lose one of these particular assets which is the St David’s Swimming Pool. In June 2009 that pool was closed for financial reasons and it is still bitterly regretted, we have an elderly population that underpin their quality of life by swimming which they can no longer do so any possible way that can be found to protect services in the rest of Pembrokeshire I would absolutely support.

“We’ve been working to replace that pool for seven years and optimistically we are trying to replace and hopefully this model will help us and make that a viable proposition.”

Cllr Rob Lewis spoke of the need to secure services for the future and that it would hang on the strength of the contract that will be drawn up.

He also added that the contract would need to be fit for purpose and that the trust would not happen until everyone was satisfied with it.

Cllr Huw George said he was not convinced about the new model and asked where the voice of the people and staff would be should they not be happy with how things are going.

A task and finish group will also be set up to deliver the recommendation in a timely manner and Cllr Adams asked that this be delegated to himself and the Chief Executive to do so.

Summing up, Cllr Keith Lewis urged that the matter should not turn into a never-ending debate and said there was a need for the council to be pro-active.

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Primary school teacher would ‘moan’ as he touched female pupils, court hears

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher would “moan” while he touched his female pupils in a sexual way, a witness said in Swansea Crown Court.

In total, 11 former pupils, who were all under 13, have come forward and accused James Oulton, 34, of sexually assaulting them.

Oulton denies all the charges – saying the case was a “witch-hunt” and that he had behaved appropriately all times.

One of the pupils, who was in year four at the time, opened day four of the trial by giving evidence via a video link.

The girl told the court: “He would put his arm around by back and backside.”

Under cross examination Chris Clee QC, for the defence, asked the witness: “Did you tell the police that you were touched in an inappropriate way?”

The witness answered: “Yes, teachers should not be touching in that way.”

James Oulton

Asked if what he was doing wrong, the witness replied:

“Yes, very wrong”

In cross examination letters and cards were produced, made the witness whilst in school, where she had said Mr. James Oulton was “the best teacher in the whole world.”

One of the cards said: “You’ve made my life complete”.

Another card said: “Thank you for being so nice, and thanks for everything that you’ve done for me.”

The witness added: “Despite what he did do, he was a good teacher.  

“He used to buy us treats.

“He was nice caring and a sweet and fun teacher – but not what he was doing.

Referring to the cards, she said: “I would definitely not be saying that stuff now.”

Explaining how she told her parents the witness said: “Once I realised that [x] was in his class, I asked her ‘did he do this stuff to you?’

“She said yes.

“I realised more and more it was wrong and it was time to grow up now, and to speak.

“As soon as I found out that this was happening to [x] I stood up and told my parents.

Asked if she had seen inappropriate behaviour happening to anybody else the witness answered: “He did it to most of the girls in the class, but he had his favourites.

Asked if she had spoken to other girls about the touching, the witness said: “Yes, I was just curious was it just me, or was it normal?”

“Teachers should most definitely not be doing that to students.

“Doing what?”, the witness was asked, “You said in your police interview that he would pull you off your chair and make you sit on his lap, is that true?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Did you try and stop him?” she was asked.

“Yes, I tried to push him off sometimes and said, ‘get off its weird’, but I didn’t want to make a scene.

“He would make me sit on his lap whilst he was marking my work.”

When asked by the defence barrister how she was sat on her teacher’s lap, and if it was under a desk, the witness answered: “No, not under the desk, as both of our legs wouldn’t fit under.”

The witness also said that when she was sat on the defendant’s knee he would make “a low grunting noise.”

Asked if she had spoken others about this case, the girl said: “Police told my mum and dad that there were very many people involved in the case.

“I thought it was just me and [x] that was going to be at court, I only recently discovered that others had come out.”

A second female pupil was also giving evidence via video link. She was 9-years-old at the time of the alleged offending.

Firstly, a pre-recorded interview was played in court in which the witness said: “My teacher, Mr. Oulton always put his hand up my leg like that and up my t-shirt.”

She added: “If he calls you over and he pulls you onto his lap, if you don’t, he pulls your chair over and makes you.”

“How would he make you?” the QC asked.

“He would grab your arm, push you, and then pull you in”, she replied.

When asked if this was a one off, the witness said that the defendant “did it every day.”

“How would you be sat on his lap?”, she was asked.

“He would have one arm on my stomach, then the other arm would be rubbing my leg.”

“He would swap arms and then put one arm up my t-shirt.”

When asked to clarify if it was under her t-shirt the girl explained: “Yes it was under my t-shirt rubbing his hands up and down.”

The witness added: “If I tried to get up for work, he would just grab my arm.”

“He would make a funny sound like a hissing airplane.”

“We had a helper in the class, and when he came in, he would stop, and then I could go and sit down.”

The trial continues.

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New trees planted to help town

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SEVERAL new trees have been planted on Riverside Avenue in Neyland.

They were planted by Grandiflora, courtesy of the Town Council which recently pledged to plant more trees in the town in an attempt to help the environment.

As well as helping the environment, the trees will prevent vehicles from being parked on the grass verges on Riverside Avenue, which had been severely churned up over the winter and looked unsightly.

The Town Council will be working with Pembrokeshire County Council regarding parking issues in Neyland.

The trees will be tended and watered over the summer period to ensure they reach their maximum potential and enhance the area for residents and visitors alike.

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Golden goodbye report likely to be critical

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A REPORT by Audit Wales into the departure of former CEO Ian Westley is very likely to contain criticism of senior council officers.

In November 2020, Mr Westley left Pembrokeshire County Council with a £95,000 pay-out, something which has been criticised by a number of councillors.

In a document before the Audit and Governance Committee on Tuesday (April 13), it says that termination payments to Chief Officers are routinely examined by Audit Wales but in the case of Mr Westley, the audit team was unable to locate a recorded decision to enter into the settlement agreement which led to a termination payment being made to the Chief Executive.

An Audit Office spokesperson said: “This appeared unusual and therefore the audit team decided to undertake an early examination of the process that resulted in the payment being made.”

No complaints were raised, by councillors or any other body, with Audit Wales but the number of concerns and questions being raised at following council meetings prompted them to commence an audit.

Audit Wales state: “Our audit fieldwork is substantially complete. However due to the complex nature of some of the issues involved we considered it necessary to take some external legal
advice. We are currently considering that advice. 

“In the near future we will draft a document setting out our provisional findings and conclusions. 

“Once this document is ready we will commence a clearance process to confirm factual accuracy. 

“If the document contains criticism of identifiable individuals, in the first instance we will provide those individuals with any extracts of the document that pertain to them. Once
we have confirmed the factual accuracy with individuals, we will send the full draft document to the Council’s Chief Executive to identify any remaining factual inaccuracies. 

“We will only issue the finalised document once the clearance process has been completed. #

“We are unable to provide a definitive timetable for reporting because it will depend on the responses we receive within the clearance process.”

Only a handful of senior officers were involved in the procedure surrounding Ian Westley’s departure.

The inference which can be safely drawn from Audit Wales’ report to the Audit Committee is that some of its content will be critical either of councillors, senior officers, or both.

The process of asking those named to respond is known as Maxwellisation, a legal practice that allows persons who are to be criticised in an official report to respond prior to publication.

The report highlights the exceptional nature of the case at Pembrokeshire County Council and demonstrates the sensitivity of the issues raised.

If senior officers are sharply criticised or found to have failed in their duty to their employer, they will almost certainly have to go.

The council’s interim Chief Executive will read the document after maxwellisation.

It is also likely that the council’s newly appointed Chief Executive, Will Bramble, will have a chance to see it.

The Audit Wales spokesperson added: “We are unable to provide a definitive timetable for reporting because it will depend on the responses we receive within the clearance process. We are unable to respond to queries about our emerging findings whilst the audit is progressing, and until we have finalised our conclusions.”

In January, Cllr Jamie Adams had called for the council to commence an internal investigation into Mr Westley’s departure but that was deferred to allow for the Audit Wales review to be completed.

Cllr Adams said that the decision of payment should have been a ‘democratic decision’ and has asked why that wasn’t the case.

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