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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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Mark Drakeford says: ‘Thank you Wales for going red’

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LABOUR is staying in power in Wales after matching its best-ever Senedd election result. It won exactly half of the 60 seats in the Welsh Parliament with all results now declared

Labour has 30 seats, with the Conservatives on 16, Plaid Cymru on 13 and the Liberal Democrats one.
Mark Drakeford thanked Wales for “going red” and has vowed to be “radical” and “ambitious” in government, as Labour looks to solidify its leadership in Wales.

Labour’s Vaughan Gething, health minister in the Welsh government, told the media that the party didn’t “have to look at a formal coalition” because they had done so well.

“We do, however, have to talk to other groups within the Senedd,” he said.

Mr Gething said Labour had a “strong mandate to govern” with 30 of the Senedd’s 60 seats.

The Wales Green Party failed to win a seat in the Senedd elections but they say they recorded their highest-ever result in Wales. Leader Anthony Slaughter said the “results demonstrate the appetite for change” across Wales.

A very happy Mark Drakeford on Saturday, May 8 (Photo Welsh Labour/Twitter)

Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: “We seem to be getting votes from all of the parties and support on that regional list as people increase their knowledge of the voting system.”

Adam Price, who held Carmarthen East and Dinefwr with a reduced majority, said he would not stand down as Plaid Cymru leader.

Despite no gains, Mr Price said the party had increased its share of the vote and its stance on independence had been a “net positive”.

“I’m not walking away from anything, because this is the moment when Wales needs leadership,” he said.

“This is a historic challenge, because of the way that the politics is moving in this island, but it’s also a historic opportunity for us.

On the campaign trail, Plaid leader Adam Price (Pic Plaid Cymru)

“We can move our nation forward and I’m looking forward to playing my part, it’s not something that anyone can do on their own.

“I have a role to play, we all have a role to play and that’s what’s exciting about politics at the moment. Wales is on the move Wales is on the march. I’m going to be part of that.”

Later, on social media, Adam Price said: ” I extend my congratulations to Mark Drakeford on securing a mandate to lead the next government. Although disappointed not to be returning more Members to the Senedd, I am proud that we ran a positive campaign based on a transformational programme.

“Our Senedd group will bring renewed energy and fresh ideas and I look forward to working with all my colleagues as we continue to build the case for independence. We will be a constructive but forensic opposition as we enter a crucial period of pandemic recovery.

“However, the sixth Senedd will be poorer without one of Wales’s most remarkable politicians. No one has given more to the party or to her community than Leanne Wood – an inspiring role model for so many.

“Leanne’s commitment to the Rhondda is unparalleled and I know she will continue to make an important contribution to the future of our nation and the pursuit of social justice which always has and always will drive her politics.

“Westminster’s attack on devolution is only just beginning and Wales needs a plan – that plan must focus on taking our own future into our own hands so we can build a nation that is fair and free.

TORYS CLAIM BEST RESULT EVER

The Welsh Conservatives say that they have secured the party’s best ever result in a Senedd election, winning 16 seats in the Welsh Parliament.

In a statement to the press the party said: “Today’s final election results have seen the Welsh Conservatives secure two regional list seats in both South Wales Central and South Wales East.

“Welsh Conservatives polled 289,802 votes (share up 5.0) across 40 constituencies – 26.1% of the vote – winning eight seats including gains in both the Vale of Clwyd and Brecon and Radnorshire.

“On the five regional lists, Welsh Conservatives secured 278,560 votes (share up 6.3), winning eight seats. The result will see the Senedd return its first ever female from a BAME background, with Welsh Conservatives’ Natasha Asghar making history with election in South Wales East.

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies with Joel Williams on election day (Pic RT Davies/Twitter)

Commenting, Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies said: “Firstly, I’d like to say a huge thank you to our outstanding set of Welsh Conservative candidates, activists and staff who’ve worked incredibly hard throughout this campaign and secured the party’s best ever Senedd result.

“The team has gone above and beyond and deserve great credit for the positive campaign we’ve run right across Wales, and I am thrilled to see Natasha Asghar make history in South Wales East by becoming the first female from a BAME background to be elected to the Senedd.

Newly elected Conservative member of Senedd, Sam Kurtz, talking to BBC reporter Aled Scourfield (Pic J Coles/Herald)

“As a party we are also delighted to have secured constituency seats in the Vale of Clwyd and Brecon and Radnorshire, and increased seats on the regional lists, resulting in our highest ever representation in the Senedd with 16 members.

“It’s been an unconventional campaign and it’s clear incumbency and continuity has played a significant part. To that end, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to Mark Drakeford and Welsh Labour on a successful campaign.

“The election has been fought in good spirit by political parties in Wales and I would like to pay a final word of thanks to the many officials across the country who’ve allowed this election to take place in a safe and effective manner.”

IMPACT OF PANDEMIC

Ian Price, director of CBI Wales, congratulated Labour. He said: “This is a critical time for the Welsh economy and the new parliament must have a laser-like focus on rebuilding from the devastating impact of the pandemic,” he said.
“That means all parties pulling together and working with business to protect jobs, rebuild livelihoods and create a fair and sustainable recovery that addresses the longstanding structural challenges our economy faces.”

Royal Town Planning Institute, largest professional body for town planners in the UK and Europe, commented on the election result saying: “The Welsh Labour Manifesto meets many of the issues raised by the RTPI, including tackling climate action, investing in public transport and active travel, and the delivery of quality affordable homes, including a focus on strengthening Welsh language communities.

“The manifesto commits to strengthening the autonomy and effectiveness of local government to make them more successful in delivering services. We have highlighted the need to invest in planning services to enable the delivery of Welsh Labour’s priorities.”

LABOUR “RESILIENT”

Speaking to the BBC, political commentator Prof Roger Awan-Scully said: “I think it’s been an astonishingly resilient performance by the Welsh Labour Party, amidst disasters for Labour elsewhere in the UK.

“The Conservatives are also performing strongly, but not quite bringing it home in terms of the number of constituency victories that they might have expected.

“For Plaid Cymru I think this has to be said to be a deeply disappointing election.”

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Conservatives hold on to Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat

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THE CONSERVATIVES have held on to their Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat despite Labour closing the gap.

Sam Kurtz will take over the seat from the outgoing Angela Burns who held a majority of 3,400 at the last election.

This time, the gap was just 936 to Labour’s Hassan Riaz who picked up 10,304 votes.

Plaid Cymru’s Cefin Campbell picked up 6,615 votes.

The turnout in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire was slightly up to 52.12% from 51.2% in 2016.

However, with a larger electorate thanks to votes for 16/17-year-olds, the number of votes cast went up by almost 3,000.

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Paul Davies re-elected as Conservatives hold Preseli Pembrokeshire

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PAUL DAVIES has been re-elected to represent the Preseli Pembrokeshire constituency.

He won with 12,295 votes, while there were 10,895 votes for Labour’s Jackie Jones.

Plaid Cymru candidate Cris Tomos gained just over 6,000 votes and there were also 1,239 for Reform UK candidate Alan Dennison.

There were over 3000 more votes cast in 2016, down largely in part to the fact that 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote in this election.

Both the Conservatives and Labour received more votes than before while the gap to Labour closed to just 1,400.

After being elected, Paul Davies said he would continue to ‘fight for Pembrokeshire’ and thanked those who had been involved in his campaign.

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