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Tough choices for 21st century schools

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In an exclusive interview with The Pembrokeshire Herald, Council Leader Jamie Adams shares his vision for the future of Pembrokeshire’s schools

A COLD grey day slowly fades into twilight as Jamie Adams sits at a desk opposite me in an office tucked away in a maze of corridors at County Hall.

We are here to talk about the 21st Century Schools programme: the ambitious and wide-ranging plans that are a significant and potentially controversial part of the County Council’s plans for the future of education in Pembrokeshire.

tough choicesIn short, local authorities have been told to look at schools with low numbers and consolidate them, to look at their estate and ways to improve it and offered the chance of limited time funding to do both. The policy gained a high-profile casualty when the former Welsh Government Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, resigned after fighting locally a policy he promoted nationally.

The Pembrokeshire Herald wanted to find out what the Council’s plans were and, in a wide-ranging interview, spoke to Jamie Adams – who chairs the authority’s 21st Century Schools Management Board – about them.

“I would not say that the position in Pembrokeshire is any more challenging than it is in other counties,” Jamie Adams begins.

“I would rather regard it as an opportunity to shape the provision of education, and to address the problem of surplus places in our schools.

“We have twenty percent more school spaces than we have pupils to fill those spaces. Now, there are counties – I won’t name them – in which difficult decisions have been avoided in favour of the status quo. That is the easy route to take.

“For now, however, Pembrokeshire has the chance to obtain the funding to provide new buildings and new schools and to build for the future. This is a once in a generation chance to do this and I think that we should take up the challenge to shape education in our county for the better.”

He pauses and looks reflective, before continuing: “In order to build new schools, we must make some other choices. We have the opportunity to rationalize the Council’s estate. We cannot afford to operate surplus buildings or surplus space. It ties up capital.

“A good example would be youth centres, day centres, family centres: we cannot afford to keep these as single use buildings used only part of the time. We must ‘sweat the assets’ to get the most out of them. That means combining buildings’ uses to keep services affordable and buildings viable.

“We must do this in order to get the funding we need. The original 21st Century Schools scheme provided for a 70-30 split between central government and central government inputs. That is now 50-50. We have to find forty percent more of the funding than originally planned. As we are the second highest recipient of central government funding in Wales, our challenge is that much greater in terms of capacity for capital projects. We have got off to a good start and have a lot of the money in place. I am confident that within two years we will be one third of the way to our funding target in terms of releasing capital.

“As a council, our challenge over the next two to three years is to release the money tied up in existing assets that can be realised. That can only be done by a collective effort. My challenge is to convey the message that we need to move away from holding too much in buildings to do more with services.”

But what of specific schools: Johnston, for instance?

“When we first sent our exploratory bids in, they were prepared to a tight timescale as aspirational expressions of what we wanted to achieve. There was a narrow window provided by the Welsh Government. Some other Welsh councils decided not to stick their necks out, we were prepared to take the chance given.

“Since our initial expressions, we have taken the opportunity think both generally and strategically at schools and our education system in Pembrokeshire. We are focusing on three things: growth, outcomes and quality of build. We must also consider Welsh medium provision and special educational needs.

“So in terms of Johnston School, we looked again at the site. The present site is a nightmare for traffic twice a day. The streets around the school are simply not built to handle the number of cars going back and forward there. In addition, the buildings are ‘tired’ and need updating/replacing.

“While we looked originally at developing on the existing site, we decided that it was rather like trying to fit a size eight foot in a size six shoe. It is simply not going to fit. So, we have decided to find out if there are chances to develop elsewhere in Johnston.

“Secondly, we have identified an additional need for further support for special educational needs covering the area between Haverfordwest and Milford Haven and stretching inland and toward the coast. If you look at a map of the County, one location stands out as the sensible place to locate that provision: Johnston.

“In light of that revised thinking, our original proposal for Johnston School’s present site has been replaced by our wish to look at the opportunities for building a new school on a new site.”

What about Hakin and Hubberston schools?

“That’s an ongoing consultation, and I don’t want to prejudge its outcome. I point out, however, that for pre-eleven education, Estyn is looking for a single site school. Now Hakin is a split site already and Estyn want that point addressed.

“In terms of Hubberston, I do not doubt that we could make do with the existing buildings for a few more years, but the opportunity to develop our options is now. I think this is a unique chance to develop a new school on a single site.

“There are, of course, other issues: I am particularly pleased that the revised proposals incorporate the opportunity to retain faith-based education; that is to be welcomed. I am pleased that this area is bucking the trend across the county and that there is a growing young population there. In order to address that issue, we really ought to future-proof our provision now, when we have the chance. Finally, as it stands, we have three schools in very close proximity to each other and a new school on a single site makes more sense.

“At Broad Haven School we have the chance to provide a nursery and additional capacity. To an extent that is a less complicated project, as it is a much smaller school. But it fits into our strategic plan for the future provision of school places across Pembrokeshire.

“Make no mistake: we will have to make tough choices in the future as well. The Council will be moving on to consider the Angle Peninsula and the area south and west of Pembroke town. We need to consider how viable our current provision is and whether there are opportunities to use resources more efficiently there.

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Tenby: Air Ambulance medivac patient with suspected broken leg

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PARAMEDICS asked for assistance, and the Wales Air Ambulance were subsequently tasked with tending to an incident at Tenby harbour on Sunday (Oct 2).

A male required assistance due to a fall around the beach area, and suffered a suspected broken leg.

A spokesperson for the air ambulance said: “Our overnight crew arrived on scene at 8.12 pm.

“Following treatment at the scene from our on-board medics, we airlifted the patient to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. Our involvement concluded at 10.31 pm.”

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Cleddau Bridge was closed due to concerns over person in distress

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THE CLEDDAU BRIDGE was closed just after midnight on Sunday morning after reports of concern over a person in distress.

A number of police units attended the incident, and an ambulance was put on standby, but thankfully was not needed. The bridge was closed for around a hour, with a diversion put in place.

Nearby residents noted the flashing lights from multiple emergency services on the bridge and posted statuses on Facebook wishing for the person’s safety.

Some other witnesses on the Pembroke Dock side of the estuary noted activity in the water from small vessels in the area under the bridge, which they believed may have been boats put on standby.

In a statement a spokesperson from the Welsh Ambulance Service said: “We were called in the early hours of Sunday morning at 12:43am to reports of an incident on the A477, Cleddau Bridge.

“We sent one emergency ambulance but were subsequently stood down.”

At just after 1am Sunday the police posted the following on their official Facebook page, confirming that the incident was over: “Cleddau Bridge has now reopened. Thank you for your patience.”

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Thirty bags of cocaine – worth £90m – wash up on west Wales beach

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE has confirmed that what is expected to be a large quantity of the class A drug cocaine has washed up on on a west Wales beach this weekend.

The Herald understands that a man walking on Tan-y-Bwlch beach, south of Aberystwyth, made the discovery early on Saturday morning – which at street value could be sold for as much as £90m.

The beach walker found 30 black bags on the sand which had been tied together with a rope and empty gallon jerry cans for buoyancy.

Inside each black bag were 30 x1kg blocks, labelled with the name of fashion brand Dior – the mark of a Latin-American cartel – indicating 100% purity.

A similar brick of cocaine confiscated in Australia (File)

Thinking the package was suspicious, the man called the police.

When the police arrived, one of the bags was cut open and inside was what appeared to be cocaine.

The suspected cocaine was then taken away by officers, and it has now been confirmed that the white powder inside the bags is believed to be cocaine.

A spokeswoman for Dyfed-Powys Police said: “We are investigating the discovery of a significant quantity of what is thought to be cocaine, spotted along the Ceredigion coast this weekend.

“Enquiries are being undertaken to establish how such an unusually large amount of the controlled drug came to wash up on the Welsh shore, following recent storms.

“The precise quantity is still being established and at this time no-one has been arrested in relation to this matter. Officers have thanked those who found the packages and their sensible actions in reporting the matter immediately.”

No arrests have been made.

The UK’s cocaine market is estimated to be worth more than £25.7 million daily, according to the National Crime Agency’s latest strategic threat assessment.

Figures released by the agency earlier this year revealed how cocaine seizures nationwide have soared by 161 per cent between early 2020 and early last year.

A suspected £90million haul of cocaine was found on beach
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