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Education Service removed from special measures

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cllr jamieTHE PEMBROKESHIRE HERALD can reveal that the County Council’s Education Service has been removed from special measures imposed in October 2012 and that issues raised then no longer require further follow-up. 

The Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council has welcomed the announcement that the Authority is no longer in special measures. Councillor Jamie Adams said the news was a significant milestone for the Authority. The Council was placed in special measures following an inspection in October 2012 by the education watchdog Estyn into education services for children and young people. A monitoring plan was subsequently agreed with Estyn and since then inspectors have visited the Council on two occasions to monitor progress. After the latest visit earlier this month, the inspection team judged that the Authority had made “sufficient progress” to be taken out of special measures. In June 2014, Mererid Stone HMI led a team of four inspectors to review the progress made by the authority against the remaining four of the seven recommendations arising from the October 2012 inspection. The team also considered the overall performance of the authority against its post-inspection action plan. The team held discussions with the leader of the council, elected members, the chief executive, senior officers and head teachers. Inspectors scrutinised documentation, including evidence on the progress made on each of Estyn’s recommendations. Pembrokeshire County Council is judged to have made sufficient progress in relation to the recommendations following the inspection of October 2012. As a result, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales considers that the local authority is no longer in need of special measures and is removing it from further follow-up activity. The Inspectorate has determined that the Council has largely addressed the failings which led to it being placed in special measures, including publishing findings that: • Elected members and the director of children and schools have worked well together to resolve difficulties in recruitment and retention of staff in social services. • The safeguarding overview and scrutiny committee provides good support and challenge to the cabinet member for safeguarding and to officers. • The authority has implemented comprehensive strategies for improvement in both key stages 2 and 4. In 2013 performance in these key stages declined in Pembrokeshire. Provisional figures for 2014 indicate that performance has improved in the Foundation Phase by over two percentage points and in key stage 2 by more than three percentage points. • The authority has substantially strengthened the team of system leaders. These officers now understand their role well and have clear guidelines to support their work. • Schools identified as causing concern have detailed action plans outlining clearly the actions to be taken • Through the revision of its Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP), the authority’s strategy to secure sufficient provision for Welshmedium education in the long term is more robust • The safeguarding scrutiny committee has made a strong contribution to the improvement in safeguarding practice in the children and schools service. It is now beginning to hold other services and partners to account for their safeguarding policies and procedures. • Partnership work concentrates appropriately on four areas where organisations can have the greatest impact by working together, for example reducing the proportion of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). • The authority has significantly improved its approach to selfevaluation, developing a culture of openness and honesty about performance. The director for children and schools, along with his senior leadership team, leads by example in being robustly selfcritical about performance within the directorate and by inviting constructive challenge about performance. The Estyn report continues: ‘The Chief Executive, Leader and senior officers took difficult and sensitive decisions to remove barriers to progress in order to bring about the necessary improvement. ‘These decisions were implemented carefully and have resulted in a complete restructure within the Pembrokeshire Children and Schools Service. A new management team is working closely together as a cohesive group to embed change. ‘The Authority now engages well with the regional consortium. Joint working arrangements with regional partners have strengthened the Authority’s capacity to challenge and support its schools. ‘There is a significant change in culture within the Authority demonstrated through greater openness and transparency. The Authority’s vision and expectation for its education services are communicated clearly to schools and other partners. ‘Officers and elected members have shown a willingness to work constructively with inspection, audit and regulatory bodies to identify and address shortcomings. They demonstrate a firm commitment to implement change and have an appetite for further improvement.’ Councillor Adams said he was delighted with the outcome of the latest visit. “This is a very important day in the life of Pembrokeshire County Council and a significant moment in a long and sometimes painful journey, but one which we had to undertake. “Along the way weaknesses have been identified and addressed and substantial changes made to working practices. “The result is a more dynamic, transparent and outward-looking local Authority. This is just not my opinion but is also the view shared by the inspectors. “We remain committed to doing everything that can reasonably be expected to keep children in our County safe. Today’s decision by the inspectors formally acknowledges that they have confidence in our services. “I want to pay tribute to the senior officers and employees who have worked together with the Elected Members in bringing about this change which provides firm foundations for our education services.” Councillor Sue Perkins, the County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Safeguarding said the Council would continue to be firmly focused on improving outcomes for children. “We recognise that there is always need for further improvement and we will focus on what still needs to be done” she added. “However, this is a significant result for the children of Pembrokeshire, all of whom should have the opportunity of receiving the best education we can offer.”

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Milford Haven: Police investigating sexual assault

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POLICE are investigating an incident of sexual assault which occurred in Hakin, Milford Haven.

Milford Haven Police say that the alleged incident took place in Croft Avenue on February 7, 2023 at around 19:50hrs.

If anyone is able to give any information regarding this incident please ring 101 quoting reference DPP/0956/07/02/2023/02/C.

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Pembrokeshire County Council faces less bleak finances than previously expected

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL faces a less bleak financial position than had previously been expected, to the tune of nearly £10m, members of a schools committee have heard.

At the February 6 meeting of the Schools and Learning Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack, presented outline draft 2023-’24 budget proposals to members.

He told members an updated draft budget was to be reported to the February meeting of the council’s Cabinet after a previously feared funding gap of £28m was now smaller, at £18.6m, due to a higher settlement from Welsh Government.

An expected 3.5 per cent settlement ended up being 7.9 per cent, which meant some expected cuts were now unlikely to happen, he told committee members.

“A large number of the most severe cuts are now very, very unlikely; we’re now looking at a deficit of £18.6m, it’s not as severe as it was.

“The officer team is looking at how that funding gap could be closed with budget savings and with different levels of council tax.”

Members heard the budget is expected to be addressed through an increase in council tax – potentially in the area of 7.5 per cent – along with significant cost reductions.

Director of Resources John Haswell said: “It was a better settlement, but still an £18.6m gap; this isn’t a one-year issue, this is an issue over the medium-term plan, over £50m over the four-year period.”

He said that Pembrokeshire, having the lowest council tax rates in Wales, meant that each potential percentage increase returned less than other local authorities.

Members heard papers listing the latest budget proposals for Cabinet discussion are expected to be released soon, in advance of the February 13 meeting.

Members agreed to defer making any recommendations to Cabinet, pending the release of the revised papers.

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Welsh Freeport competition heats up with Senedd vote

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ON WEDNESDAY, the Senedd will hold a debate regarding freeports as the competition for UK and Welsh Government funding nears its conclusion.

Currently, three bids are in from across Wales for a chance to benefit from £26 million of direct UK Government funding, as well as reduced taxes for businesses in the freeport area. A Welsh freeport could see up to 16,000 jobs created and further investment or the local area into the billions.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Economy, Paul Davies MS said:

“Benefits of a freeport cannot be understated, bringing much needed jobs and investment into some of the most deprived areas of Wales.

“The UK Government put the challenge to Wales to submit exceptional bids, and Wales has delivered.

“All three bids would help to transform their local communities in different ways. It’s essential that the UK and Welsh Governments work together to deliver that second freeport for Wales, maximising the opportunities that these bids have to offer.”

The three Welsh Freeport bids are:

  • The Celtic Freeport (covering Pembrokeshire to Neath) which has estimated that it would create over 16,000 new jobs and up to £5.5 billion in new investment.
  • The Anglesey Freeport would support up to a £1 billion contribution to UK GDP by 2030, while also creating up to 13,000 new, high salary jobs in Ynys Môn.
  • The Newport Freeport (including Cardiff Airport) is aiming to increase non-passenger revenues to 50%, ending their reliance of passenger generated income.

The UK Government stated that “if a truly exceptional proposal were presented at the bidding stage” than a second freeport would be funded.

The Welsh Conservative debate reads:

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Recognises the opportunities for freeports to energise the Welsh economy, create high quality jobs, promote regeneration and investment.

2. Notes that three bids from Wales have been submitted for consideration by the UK and Welsh Governments.

3. Calls on the Welsh Government to work with the UK Government to deliver two freeports in Wales, recognising the truly exceptional proposals submitted and the transformational benefits they can deliver for the Welsh economy.

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