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St Francis parents ‘sidelined’ by consultation

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Huw Jones: There is no plan yet we just want your ideas

Huw Jones: There is no plan yet we just want your ideas

THE MOOD was tense at a meeting for parents arranged by the council to discuss the future of primary education in Milford Haven on Tuesday (Mar 1).

This was not a statutory consultation and this point was emphasised on a number of occasions during the evening.

With the council’s reputation on consultations on very shaky ground, there was a measurable atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in the hall.

The meeting, held at Milford Haven School, was attended by 57 people. Some present complained that the 6.30pm start made it impossible for some parents to attend. Fifteen of those attending were town or community councillors, school governors or teachers. The majority of the parents, it seemed, were from St Francis RC School – but all schools were represented.

But those representing St Francis made it very clear that they did not feel happy about the consultation. Several parents with children in St Francis said they felt sidelined, and were unhappy about how the council’s consultation document was worded.

The council claimed at the meeting that they had no plans or ideas themselves at this stage, and that this was purely consultation exercise. The council further claimed all primary schools in the Milford Haven area were advised last year that preliminary engagement would take place during the 2015/16 academic year; this was following a report to Council in December 2014.

The representatives from Pembrokeshire County Council were Huw Jones, Professional Officer, Planning Places and Admissions and Sian Rowles, Challenge Advisor.

Mr Jones said that the Meads school is currently severely overcrowded, at 114% it’s capacity. The council added temporary buildings to house additional pupils soon after the Mount school closes – but pupil numbers are expected to peak by 2020. It is expected that next year 839 pupils will attend the three schools, the highest ever number.

St Francis has 23% empty places. Parents and teachers at the school feel that because St Francis does not have a nursery, with all children attending The Meads for their first experience of school, St Francis is put at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting students.

One parent suggested that many children would like to stay in the school where they have made friends, leading to one school being overcrowded and the other underutilised.

Huw Jones stated that “with the benefit of hindsight”, it had probably been a mistake to close The Mount school. However, it should be noted that the closure of a school is normally due to a range of factors and each of these would have been taken into consideration.

Most seemed to agree, however, that if The Mount school had not been closed, that the overcrowding problem would not be so severe.

Father Harri Williams of St Katherine and St Peter’s Church, speaking in his capacity as a governor of The Meads, said: “I was told by a Chief Executive of Pembrokeshire County Council that a Portakabin was no place to educate a child in the 21st century, but here we are 16 years into the 21st century talking about adding additional Portakabins to a school in Milford Haven.

Helen Hammond, trustee of the Diocese of Menevia by Bishop of Menevia, who has a granddaughter at St Francis school, said: “I would like to thank the council for including the parents of St Francis and teachers with the consultation but it has caused much anxiety. Any closure of the school would have to be in agreement with the trustees and bishop. I know that this would not be on the agenda of the diocese.”

Mr Sean McCarthy, governor at St Francis school, said that he was disappointed that it was seeming like St Francis was being sidelined. He said that it was obvious that the thrust of the debate was about what to do with The Meads and the junior school

Several parents with children in St Francis agreed with Mr McCarthy said they felt as though their views and the future of their children’s school was being treated as an afterthought. The parents were also unhappy about how the council’s consultation document was worded.

Sonja Groves, acting headteacher of the Meads, spoke passionately for a new school for all primary school children in the town with state of the art facilities. She said that plans should take into account the deprivation and suffering of many families in Milford Haven. She was given a loud round of applause.

She added: “There are many hardships in Milford Haven and parents on the breadline. The only way to break the cycle is to equip our parents with essential life skills and offer better health support and playground facilities. A super school would be rewarding and exciting but this would take commitment and money.”

The council said after the meeting: “We have committed to adding a further mobile classroom to The Meads to assist the school in accommodating pupils in the short term – this should be in place by September 2016.”

In relation to the question of a nursery at St Francis, a council spokesman stated: “Opening a nursery would effectively mean extending the age range of the school and requires full statutory process as part of the School Organisation Code.

“In view of the wider engagement in relation to provision in Milford Haven, it is sensible to cover all at the same time.

The spokesman added: “If, as a result of the current engagement, there is an appetite to extend the age range of St Francis School, then I would recommend that course of action to Council. It should be noted, however, that such an action would require a full statutory process to be conducted but that it would be sensible to include this as part of any additional proposal arising from the current engagement.

Headmaster of Milford Haven School, Mr Rod Francis, said: “I was disappointed to hear that the council are talking about signposting children from Milford Haven, who wish to be taught in the medium of Welsh, to Haverfordwest. I think it is important that Milford Haven stays together as a community.”

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Welsh Guards sergeant shot dead during Castlemartin live-fire training exercise

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A BRITISH ARMY sergeant was killed on Thursday night (Mar 4) in a shooting accident at Castlemartin Training Area, The Herald can confirm.

The solider was training with live ammunition, ahead of a planned deployment to Iraq this summer.

Five police cars and an ambulance were seen screaming through Pembroke towards the incident at approximately 10pm towards the incident.

A coastguard helicopter, CG187, was scrambled to the scene, and hovered near Bosherston for a while, but was stood down and returned to base.

The Herald has contacted the MOD for a comment, who said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on the 4th of March.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

THIS STORY IS UPDATING

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Pembrokeshire County Council bills Home Office for Penally camp costs

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THE COUNCIL has sent an invoice for more than £80,000 to the Home Office.

It is to cover some of the costs that the local authority has incurred in connection with the Penally Asylum Seeker Centre, near Tenby.

Following a question on the issue from Cllr Jonathan Preston at Full Council the Council have confirmed that a bill has been sent.

The Member for Penally ward asked: “Please can the relevant Cabinet Member provide a breakdown of all costs to this authority which have been incurred in providing staff, services and other associated resources to Penally camp since its re-purpose by the Home Office last September?”

Council leader Cllr. David Simpson confirmed that on February 22 Pembrokeshire County Council submitted an invoice for £83, 858 which includes £65,564 in staff costs, £12,799 of specialist support and £5,495 for works such as barriers.

Pembrokeshire County Council is currently awaiting payment, the Authority confirmed.

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Hospitality sector welcomes Budget boost

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IT HAS been so long it seems since we could stand at a bar and enjoy a well-earned pint, but now we are on the road back to normality, the Herald has spoken to some of those in the hospitality sector who have been asked to close. We wanted to know what the owners in businesses in these sectors locally thought of the budget and if Rishi Sunak had done enough to help them.

We first spoke to a Milford Haven restaurant business. Owner of Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, Dan Mills said that the budget was not a silver bullet to fix all problems but said that the budget had gone a fair way to delivering what many in the Pembrokeshire hospitality sector have been calling for in recent weeks.

Dan Mills said: “The biggest risk many of us were facing was the cliff edge of a VAT increase, the end of the Furlough Scheme and a return to full business rates, I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised this and taken action on all fronts.

“With talk of the Welsh Government restricting us to outside trading for an initial period, the flexibility that the Furlough Scheme brings will be a huge help to ensure staff retain their jobs.

“I was also delighted to see that the Chancellor has provided funding to Wales to ensure that we benefit from a further 12 months of Business Rate Relief here in Pembrokeshire, that’s money that many of us can instead invest into restarting our businesses.

“I hope that the conversation that unfortunately began due to Covid between politicians and the Pembrokeshire hospitality and tourism sector can continue long beyond this crisis, it seems that through some open and honest feedback we are making real progress.

Award winning gastro-pub The Griffin Inn is well known throughout Wales and has received many national reviews. Their reputation puts them in a strong position once they are allowed to re-open. We spoke to Sian and Simon Vickers about the budget.

Simon Vickers, co-owner is also a director of Visit Pembrokeshire. He told The Herald: “I think the budget was very positive for the hospitality industry with the reduction in VAT being the biggest help.

“Overall I feel the government have supported the industry amazingly

In regard to tax on alcohol, Simon said: “Duty has been frozen It would have been nice to have seen a cut in it. Whether there’s a cut or not the breweries always increase their prices so in all honesty it never affects us.”

The ongoing financial support has been welcomed by industry group CAMRA, The Campaign or Real Ale, but the organisation said that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity to lower beer duty to save our pubs.

Their national chairman Nik Antona issued a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald saying: “Freezing alcohol duty is obviously better than a rise. However, CAMRA had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a cut in duty on beer served on tap in pubs and social clubs to benefit consumers and help the great British pub recover and thrive in the difficult months and years ahead by being able to compete with supermarket alcohol.

“The Government’s commitment to review alcohol duties in the coming months is welcome. CAMRA will continue to call for a lower rate of duty for beer served in pubs – an option available to the Government now we have left the European Union.

“Reducing tax on beer served in pubs and social clubs would encourage responsible drinking in a supervised, community setting – as well as boosting jobs and local economies, helping consumers and benefiting pubs and licensees.”

On financial support announced, Nik commented: “Cutting VAT as pubs begin to reopen, and reducing it until April next year, means they can now start benefiting from that cut – but CAMRA believes this VAT cut should be extended to alcohol so that traditional locals that don’t serve food can benefit too.

“The extension of furlough until September and new grants of up to £18,000 are very welcome. However, pubs are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at pre-COVID trading levels due to outside space and then table service only indoors. The beer and pubs sector will need further support over the coming months, over and above new loans, to help them get back on their feet until there is a full and proper re-opening and they can trade at full capacity.

“Extending the business rates holiday until the end of June will help keep the wolves from the door for many English pubs, with the two-thirds reduction for the rest of the financial year a welcome step. However, given how tough it will be for many pubs we believe the 100% cut in business rates needs to be extended for a full 12 months as has already happened in Scotland.”

Picture: Simon Vickers, Griffin Inn, Dale

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