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Miller’s plans derailed

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Speaking to press before the meeting: Cllr Paul Miller

Speaking to press before the meeting: Cllr Paul Miller

AN ATTEMPT by Cllr Paul Miller, the Labour Leader on Pembrokeshire County Council, to ‘recall’ the proposed education changes in Pembrokeshire has failed. At an extra-ordinary meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council at County Hall on Tuesday (Apr 14), councillors voted 29 to 22 against the recall of the plans. This now means that the consultation process currently underway will continue.

Miller secured the signatures of fifteen councillors to ‘request a recall’ of the proposed education changes, which are to close five sixth forms on Pembrokeshire and replace them with sixth form provision at Pembrokeshire College has been met with stiff opposition by students, teachers, and the public at large. The Council’s plans were set in motion long in advance of the consultation. The Herald showed last week that both the council and the College were in talks since 2013. Cllr Miller, along with Stephen Crabb and Paul Davies AM have all called for post 16 education to be kept on school sites in north Pembrokeshire.

HUNDREDS PROTEST AT COUNTY HALL A protest of hundreds of pupils, parents and staff took place at the council offices before the meeting. A councillor took a petition into chambers signed by over 600 pupils from Sir Thomas Picton, who are angry that their school might lose its sixth form if the proposed plans go ahead. LEAKED DOCUMENTS Some of the protestors were handing out print-outs from The Herald’s website to the councillors and students.

The Herald uploaded the story, written following a leak of documents from a secret source, to it’s website at 10pm on Monday night. The late night news report revealed that the minutes of the council’s Corporate Management Team threw new light on the Authority’s plans. The story explained that the Corporate Management Team considered the engagement of the Full Council in the schools reform 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reveal that the Council has embarked upon a deeply divisive consultation – which even those behind it concede is now out of date – without waiting to establish the Welsh Government’s position in respect of the type of projects proposed in the consultation document.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 this newspaper reported in last week’s edition – nothing more than a fix. IN THE COUNCIL CHAMBER The atmosphere was tense at in the council chamber.

One of the first to speak was Cllr Pat Davies who said that there had to be a cohesive sixth form policy, county-wide. She was also loud in her criticism of the idea of a centre for excellence in the south of the county that she suggested may not be accessible by those in the north. She also expressed a worry that pupils moving from their school of five years to a tertiary site would miss out on communal extra-curricular activities that only a school could offer. She called for a clearer vision by the council than the one on offer. Cllr Tony Wilcox also opposed the current path and said more consultation was desperately required and any decisions should certainly not be rushed and he was joined in his calls for a re-think by Cllr Viv Stoddart who stated that as far as she knew no input had come from ‘the people who matter’, the sixth form pupils themselves. She stated a firm belief that this was a fundamental flaw in the Council’s thinking, and they had to consider children’s rights.

Cllr Tessa Hodgson, went even further, stating that she believed the consultation should have started two years earlier. ‘HELD TO RANSOM’ Also speaking at the meeting, Cllr Jonathan Nutting said that Pembrokeshire County Council had “shot itself in the foot” and that the re-organisation had ‘descended into farce’ with no merit whatsoever given to children, parents and teachers. This was, he said, the ‘biggest decision we will make as county councillors’ and he went further by saying the leader was using a process of ‘moral blackmail’ and that it was ‘divisive’ and being ‘railroaded’ through. The council, he said, were ‘being held to ransom’ by the college and that the whole policy looked like it was constructed on the ‘back of a fag packet’. He claimed it was time to ‘bin the shambolic plan’. A ‘HALF-COCKED’ PLAN Cllr Thomas Tudor, who was told he was unable to vote, said it was “imperative we listen to the needs of people and their concerns”, pointing to evidence that sixth forms improve results at GCSE and A level grades and implored the Council to think about the devastating impact such a move would have on the wider school community and its success as an academic centre. He was also keen to point out how important the sixth formers themselves are to a school as a valuable human resource.

Cllr. Mike Edwards accused the supporters of the consultation, in particular Jamie Adam’s IPPG, of using a strategy of “divide and conquer to drive through a half-cock plan”. Cllr Edwards said the council was using “divisive politics.” Cllr Evans said: “The condition of education [in Pembrokeshire] is another legacy of Bryn. This is the chaos that exists in this plan and in our education department, and Jamie [Adams], you are responsible for this chaos as it stands.” HERALD BROKE THE NEWS Cllr. Jacob Williams cited The Herald’s revelations last week that the Council had been talking with Pembrokeshire College about post- 16 education a long time before the consultation began, saying he believed that was prejudiced and ‘putting things at risk’ and Cllr David Howlett, the leader of the Conservative group accused council leader, Cllr Jamie Adams, of having tied the arms behind the councillor’s backs and that any decision would have ramifications for generations to come.

Cllr Stan Hudson, another Conservative supporting Labour leader Paul Miller’s motion thanked The Herald for having brought to his attention the collusion between the council and the college. Cllr Peter Stock referred to the many criticisms by the county’s leading professionals of the current option on the table and stated: “can all these people who object be wrong? I don’t think so – many are professionals” and referring to apparent collusion between PCC and the College, he said: “It strikes me as pre-empting a decision of the consultation”. Those opposed to Paul Miller’s motion were equally as passionate in their arguments, as the issue clearly divided the chamber. Cllr Sue Perkins went on the offensive. She criticised the county’s schools performances, deriding them for not having achieved an Estyn level of good or outstanding. She believed the option that is preferred

would “present a sound strategy to improve standards – county wide”. She also said the council must make “tough decisions”, and to have “no green category schools, a measure of a successful school according to Estyn, just wasn’t good enough”. She claimed that there was no choice but for change. Perkins implored council to allow the consultation to continue, and was adamant that all parties were being consulted, including the pupils in the county. PERKINS ON THE DEFENSIVE Cllr Perkins added: “Our young people deserve better. Our young people lack choice, yes they have the choice over where to study but not the choice of courses. There seems to be an obsession of comparing schools with Pembrokeshire College – but this is irrelevant.

The proposal is for a NEW sixth form centre. It will be a new entity and will not result in A Level courses being run by Pembrokeshire College.” Cllr Perkins batted away criticism by saying that the council was “absolutely consulting with everyone” and to say that the council wasn’t is “unfair”. BINNING CONSULTATION ‘RECKLESS’ Cllr David Lloyd rubbished the idea that the process had not been thorough. He claimed that to bin the consultation now would be “reckless”. The member for St. David’s said: “The council should stay around the table and not go back eighteen months”. Cllr Mike John agreed, saying the council should see the consultation out. Brian Hall, also opposed the motion in fear that it may adversely affect any future funding for education.

Joining him in protest at the radical motion was Keith Lewis who also believed the consultation was working and to stop the process would throw the whole situation into chaos. Another member, Cllr Pearl Llewellyn, took a more Pembrokecentred view, saying she could not put Pembroke’s new school, as proposed in the consultation’s preferred option, in jeopardy, and wouldn’t support the motion. Jamie Adams, IPPG and Council Leader, who is keen to get through the preferred option and move post 16 education to Pembrokeshire College, as per discussions the council have already had with the tertiary site, commented on the many points raised from the debate. He started by saying there was an inference that the consultation was not honest or deep enough, which he denied point blank.

To say ‘his’ council weren’t listening, he said, was a fallacy, saying that for a 2nd option to the one preferred from the consultation was for the public to tell him and the council. Adamant he and his group were right in their pursuit of their preferred plan, Adams said: “Convince me the preferred option is not the right one. I need evidence. This is not a referendum. We are deciding on the best outcome for the children of this county. Consultation will allow this and provide every opportunity. This is a jigsaw and members must understand that.

21st century funding will be available to facilitate the outcome; stop the consultation and funding is at risk”. He finished by saying he wanted ‘a guarantee not a gamble’. Before putting the motion to the vote, summing up Cllr Paul Miller said that the 21st century schools programme presented a fantastic opportunity, but said the county may miss that opportunity if the current set of proposals, dominated he said by Bush school, lead to the wrong outcomes. He said: “We need a more grown up debate. We cannot just make a decision today.

Just because we have come so far it doesn’t mean we can’t change our approach. We are making a model in this county on the fly, not the right way, we are making it up as we go along. It’s not right for communities. A loud majority sixth form education. This (the preferred option) is the wrong solution for Pembrokeshire and the community. We need to get this right for the future of our county. If we get it wrong, we could leave a 50 year legacy of inadequate provision.” THE VOTE IS LOST The motion was narrowly defeated by 29 votes to 22, with an abstention from Cllr Pearl Llewellyn.

The Herald spoke with Paul Miller directly after the meeting, who said in response to the result and defeat of his motion: “I am very disappointed. The Council had the opportunity to look again at these proposals, and we understood from the debate today that they have been framed by previous decisions. Particularly around Bush school campus, that are now dictating the educational reorganisation and £100million capital programme for this authority, and they shouldn’t be. This should all be about getting the right educational outcomes for our children, getting the right model for delivering education across Pembrokeshire and we (The council) are just not getting that.

I am bitterly disappointed that councillors rejected our proposal that would have allowed them back to the drawing board”. The Herald asked if Mr Miller was heartened by Cllr Jamie Adams’ assertion that the consultation period might offer another option, to which he responded: “Well I hope it does, but the reality is if they are going to significantly change from the single option they are putting forward as part of the consultation, they are going to have to run another statutory consultation process, and I think there will be all sorts of pressure on them not to do that. Also, they are not being honest with people about the actual effects this will have across Pembrokeshire.

This is a county wide strategy they are engaged upon, it will, whatever they decide on here today, impact on Milford and Greenhill’s 6th form sustainability.” However, Cllr Owen James who opposed the motion told The Herald: “I think the consultation process is perfectly adequate as it is and we don’t need to mess around with it. We have had some full and interesting responses. We need to go through those and act accordingly.” Cllr James was also prepared to comment on the pre-consultation collusion between the Council and Pembrokeshire College, saying: “I think we do need partnerships, and they do need to be strong ones, and I don’t think that is a disadvantage in any way.”

I AM PRO-CHOICE Preseli Pembrokeshire AM Paul Davies joined the hundreds of protestors outside County Hall ahead of the full Council meeting, saying: “I sincerely hope that Councillors think very carefully about the future of our sixth forms across Pembrokeshire. Pe m b ro k e s h i re County Council must find a way to deliver education services locally that also meets the needs of communities’ right across the County. Mr Davies AM added: “I strongly believe in young people having choice in the education system, and the current proposals to remove sixth form education from schools in North Pembrokeshire and Haverfordwest will eliminate choice for many students. This would lead to a postcode lottery, meaning that some students will have access to local sixth form provision, and others won’t – and that’s simply unacceptable. I hope that following today’s meeting, the Council will commit to delivering first-class sixth form provision in schools for all children and young people across Pembrokeshire.”

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Charity

Fishguard RNLI celebrates first female Coxswain in Wales, as charity marks 200th year 

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ON MONDAY, March 4, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) will celebrate 200 years of saving lives at sea. Fishguard RNLI Lifeboat Station is celebrating being both the oldest lifeboat station in Wales, as well as being the first Welsh station to have a female Coxswain. 

On the day the charity turns 200, the RNLI is revealing its volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards in west Wales have saved an incredible 3,891 lives during its two centuries of lifesaving.  

Since the charity was founded in 1824, its volunteer crews in west Wales have launched the lifeboats 14,872 times, saving 3,776 lives, while its lifeguards – who became part of the RNLI’s lifesaving service in 2001 – have responded to 8,865 incidents, saving 115 lives*.  In total across the UK and Ireland, 146,452 lives have been saved by the RNLI – this equates to an average of two lives saved every day for 200 years.  

Since 1824, the four lifeboat stations in Ceredigion have launched 4,848 times and saved 1,238 lives. In Pembrokeshire, the five stations have launched 8,563 times and saved 2,395 lives. Burry Port station in Carmarthenshire has launched 1,461 times and has saved 143 lives.  

Fishguard Lifeboat Station on the far west coast of Pembrokeshire was the first lifeboat station to be established in Wales. Originally established in 1822, Fishguard’s first lifeboat was built by locals. In 1855, local inhabitants requested that the RNLI take over the station. 

The station has also made RNLI history by being the first station in Wales to appoint a female Coxswain – Gemma Gill. Gemma has recently passed out as Coxswain and is thoroughly enjoying her new role.  

Gemma joined the RNLI in 2001 serving as a volunteer for North Berwick and Aberystwyth RNLI before becoming a full-time staff member.  

Gemma said:  ‘The first person to take me to sea on a lifeboat was a woman called Rhona, and she told me “don’t let other people decide what you’re capable of,” which has always stuck with me. 

‘While I believe it’s a matter of skills and experience rather than gender, I recognise the significance of this milestone. 

‘We’ve come a long way from the image of a lifeboatman in his oilskins, and, as the first woman to become an RNLI coxswain in Wales, I hope to inspire other women and girls to join the lifeboat crew.’ 

Although not officially part of the early lifeboat crews, women have always played an active role in the work of the RNLI, from the ‘lady launchers’ who played key roles at lifeboat stations assisting in the launching and recovery of vessels, to fundraisers such as Marion Macara who helped to organise the first recorded charity street collection in Manchester in 1891.  

Throughout its history, Fishguard lifeboat station has been awarded 28 medals. One gold, 18 silver and nine bronze. Today the station operates a D-class inshore lifeboat Edward Arthur Richardson as well as a Trent class Blue Peter VII.   

While much has changed in 200 years, two things have remained the same – the charity’s dependence on volunteers, who give their time and commitment to save others, and the voluntary contributions from the public which have funded the service for the past two centuries.  

Jo Partner, RNLI Head of Region for Wales says:  ‘I am immensely grateful to everyone who is involved with the charity across Wales – our volunteers, supporters and staff. Today is a hugely significant day in our history and an occasion we should all be very proud of. I know there are lots of events being planned across Wales to mark this very special day and I hope people enjoy being part of this special piece of history.   

 ‘I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those who play a part in making the RNLI the proud organisation is it today – which really is a cause for celebration.’   

RNLI Heritage Archive and Research Manager, Hayley Whiting, says: ‘The RNLI’s founder, Sir William Hillary, witnessed the treacherous nature of the sea first-hand when living on the Isle of Man and he wanted to take action. His first appeal to the nation in 1823 did not have the desired result but, thankfully, he persevered and gained the support of several philanthropic members of society, who put their names to the charity at a meeting in the City of London Tavern on 4 March 1824.  

‘Twelve resolutions were passed at that meeting, the core of which still stand as part of the RNLI’s Charter 200 years later. This shows how the RNLI’s values and purpose have remained unwavering for 200 years, despite the social and economic changes and challenges of the past two centuries.  

‘Hillary’s vision was ambitious and forward-thinking, and no doubt he would be extremely proud to see the charity he founded still going strong today, and to see how much it has achieved.’ 

The charity has a history of innovation, and adapting to challenging circumstances, such as: 

Lifejackets: In 1861, Whitby lifeboat crew launched six times to rescue stricken vessels in a storm, but on their sixth launch a freak wave capsized the lifeboat and all but one of the crew were lost. The sole survivor was Henry Freeman, who survived because he was wearing a new design of cork lifejacket. After this event, the cork lifejacket became more widely adopted by lifeboat crews.  

Fundraising: In 1886, 27 lifeboat crew members from Southport and St Annes lost their lives while trying to rescue the crew of the Mexico. A public appeal was launched, driven by local man Charles Macara. An 1891 appeal raised £10,000 in two weeks. On 1 October, Charles and his wife Marion organised the first Lifeboat Saturday. Bands, floats and lifeboats paraded through the streets of Manchester, followed by volunteers collecting money. More than £5,000 was taken on the day, which was the first recorded example of a charity street collection. 

Lifeboats: In 1914, over 140 people were saved when the hospital steamship Rohilla was wrecked. The ship had been en route to Dunkirk to help wounded soldiers but was broken up when it ran aground on rocks near Whitby.  Five lifeboats battled terrible seas to reach the ship.  A motor lifeboat (the first of its kind) from Tynemouth, took the last 50 people on board. In total, 144 people were saved by the crews, who worked for over 50 hours in atrocious conditions. The motor lifeboat proved its capabilities and became more widely accepted by lifeboat crews after this event.  

Wartime: When the First World War broke out, many lifeboat volunteers were called away to fight. The average age of lifeboat crews at home increased to over 50. During 1914-18, RNLI lifeboats launched 1,808 times, saving 5,332 lives.  In 1939, young lifeboat volunteers were called away again to war. By the end of the Second World War, RNLI crews had saved 6,376 lives around the coasts of Britain and Ireland.  

In 1940, 19 RNLI lifeboats were used to evacuate troops from Dunkirk. Two had RNLI crews onboard, while the others were crewed by the Royal Navy. The lifeboats and their stand-in crews saved thousands of lives while being shelled and bombed for days.  

Throughout its bicentenary year, the charity is running events and activities to remember its important history and celebrate the modern lifesaving service it is today, while hoping to inspire generations of future lifesavers and supporters.   

A Service of Thanksgiving to mark 200 years of the RNLI will take place at Westminster Abbey on 4 March 2024 at 11.30am. It will be attended by representatives from RNLI lifesaving communities around the UK and Ireland.  

For further information about the RNLI’s 200th anniversary, visit RNLI.org/200

*Statistics from RNLI Operational Data from 4 March 1824 to 31 December 2023 inclusive. A life saved shows how many of the people helped by the RNLI would have lost their life had the RNLI not been there.  

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News

Unwelcome Caller: Pembrokeshire’s looming Council Tax dilemma

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AS WE HAVE reported, Pembrokeshire County Council faces a contentious decision as it considers a recommended inflation-busting 16% increase in council tax to balance its budget.

Councillor Mike Stoddart, known for his critical blog posts as ‘Old Grumpy,’ is voicing strong opposition to the proposed hike, highlighting the intricate challenges and pressures facing the council in these financially strained times.

The recommendation for this substantial increase comes as the council grapples with a tight financial situation, prompting a series of budget-setting seminars aimed at aligning council members on the path forward. Stoddart, who previously voted against last year’s 7.5% increase, remains a staunch opponent, citing a lack of compelling justification for the new rate and expressing concerns over the methods used to secure consensus among council members.

The crux of Stoddart’s argument lies in the perceived manipulation of council members through what he describes as ‘psyops’—psychological operations—intended to sway their votes in favour of the budget proposals. He criticises the shift from informative seminars on local government finance to pressure-laden presentations forecasting dire consequences should the council fail to approve the tax increase. This, according to Stoddart, transforms a complex decision into a dichotomy of distributing “pain” between taxpayers and service users, a decision he argues should remain in the political realm, subject to public scrutiny and debate.

Adding to the complexity are communications from the council’s finance chiefs, setting strict guidelines for proposing alternative budgets. These guidelines effectively place a veto power in the hands of the s151 officer, the council’s finance chief, over any alternative budget proposals. This move has sparked concerns over the democratic process within the council, with Stoddart highlighting the inherent conflict of interest in having one’s proposals judged by an officer whose original budget they aim to challenge.

The narrative took a more dramatic turn with the involvement of Max Caller CBE, a figure introduced to underscore the grave consequences of failing to set a balanced budget. Stoddart’s recounting of Caller’s seminar paints a picture of stark warnings against the backdrop of potential misconduct charges, a tactic Stoddart views as fearmongering designed to quell dissent.

Despite the pressures, Stoddart’s resolve remains unshaken. The veteran councillor is calling for greater transparency and accountability, suggesting that recordings of key seminars be made public to allow constituents a clearer understanding of the deliberations leading up to the budget decision.

His stance reflects a broader concern for democratic integrity within the council.

You can read ‘OLD GRUMPY’ by clicking HERE.

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Health

Senior doctors in Wales vote to strike over pay

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  • A 48 hour strike will take place from Tuesday 16 April

CONSULTANTS and SAS (specialist, associate specialist, and speciality) doctors have voted to strike as part of a dispute with the Welsh Government over their pay, which has been cut by almost a third in real terms since 2008/9.

The results of the ballots, which ended at midday today (Monday 4 March), for doctors working in both branches of practice in Wales saw 86% of consultant voters and 94% SAS doctor voters cast their ballots in favour of industrial action.

A significant 70% of consultants and 58% SAS doctors eligible to vote in Wales had responded to a call to take part in industrial action which will take place from Tuesday 16 April.

Consultant and SAS doctors make up over half (54%) of the hospital-based medical workforce combined, with 3,137 Consultants and 1,088 SAS doctors working in hospitals across Wales. *

The BMA is now calling on all consultants and SAS doctors in Wales to participate in a 48 hour strike, except for those providing ‘Christmas day’ cover.

This level of cover will ensure doctors can provide emergency care, but all elective or non-emergency work will be postponed during this period.

BMA Cymru Wales is working with NHS employers on precise staffing levels that are appropriate and will provide guidance to members in advance of any strike days.   

Dr Stephen Kelly, chair of the BMA’s consultants committee in Wales, said: 

“This has been an incredibly difficult decision. No doctor wants to strike, but the conditions now faced in the workplace caused by the extreme pressures on the service and unsafe staffing levels have left doctors with no choice.   

“Fewer doctors now want to develop their careers in Wales with some health boards reporting vacancy rates of over third for senior doctor posts.  

“Colleagues are now choosing to retire early, reduce their hours or move out of Wales where pay is competitive, and wards better staffed. 

“Unless doctors are better valued for the work they do, more and more doctors will leave an NHS already under severe pressure in Wales”. 

Dr Julie Jones, Deputy chair of the BMA’s SAS doctors committee in Wales added: “Doctors are burning out from covering significant gaps in the workforce and patient safety is at risk. With this result our members have chosen to take a stand for the profession and for patients.

“People are waiting for treatment for longer than ever before, resulting in poorer outcomes and more time in the hospital and we all deserve better.

“This result represents a profession that is not ready to give up on the NHS and its patients in Wales”.

The decision to ballot members was taken after the BMA rejected the Welsh Government’s first and final pay offer for the 2023/24 financial year for those working in secondary care.

For consultants and SAS doctors on closed contracts the offer was 5%; SAS doctors on more recent contracts received as little as 2.5%. This final offer left BMA Cymru Wales with no choice but to enter a trade dispute and ballot for strike action.  

Over the last 15 years, consultants and SAS doctors in Wales have experienced a pay cut of almost a third since 2008/9. They received another sub-inflationary pay offer from the Welsh Government for 2023/24 which is below the recommendation made by the DDRB and is the worst offer in the UK. 

The BMA is calling on the Welsh Government to provide sufficient funding to enable discussions around an uplift in senior doctor pay that will retain existing doctors and ensure that we are able to recruit more.

Consultant and SAS doctor strike action will take place from 7am, Tuesday 16 April to 7am, Thursday 18 April.

Junior doctors in Wales will begin their third round of strike action a 96-hour full walkout from 7am Monday 25 March in pursuit of a fairer deal for their service**

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