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New pay offer means teachers’ strikes have been called off in Wales

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TWO days of planned strike action by teachers in Wales next week have been called off with a new pay offer set to be put to members. Members of the National Education Union (NEU) in Wales were set to walk out on March 15 and 16 in a move that was set to cause widespread disruption.

On Friday (Mar 10) the NEU said planned action in Wales for those days would now not take place as “constructive talks” with the Welsh Government had resulted in a revised pay offer.

David Evans, the NEU’s Wales Secretary, told Herald.Wales in a statement: “We have had lengthy negotiations with the Welsh Government and sought clarity which we did not have a few weeks ago. That this is a fully-funded offer will be a relief to our membership. We remain disappointed that the minister was unable to make a cash offer for support staff but at least he is now acknowledging the workload challenges there.”

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the National Education Union, added: “We thank the Welsh Government for the constructive manner in which they have pursued a solution to the current dispute over pay. It is vital that we do all we can, together, to combat the recruitment and retention crisis and ensure that more people join the profession and stay in the profession. The Welsh Government recognises this and has also understood the importance of the pay offer being fully funded. In addition they have committed to working with us on tackling workload.

“This is in stark contrast to the behaviour of Gillian Keegan who is preventing talks in England. This week she refused even to talks at Acas. The NEU has said time and again we will enter negotiations. The talks can go ahead at any time – it is government who are declining and setting the preconditions, not the NEU.”

Responding to Mr Miles’ statement on the proposed pay and workload package for teachers in Wales Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “Teachers will be concerned that the offer to pay additional money to teachers now must be honoured without strings attached. Teachers have seen the value of their pay plummet and are struggling with a cost of living crisis that is not of their making. The minister’s offer to deliver an award to teachers on a without prejudice basis before the end of the financial year should mean that teachers will benefit from additional money today rather than empty promises of jam tomorrow.”

Neil Butler, NASUWT national official for Wales, added: “The minister must not seek to play fast and loose with the negotiating machinery that exists in Wales and must ensure that the role of the independent pay review body is fully respected. The minister had already agreed to a remit to the review body (IWPRB). That must be honoured.”

The full holding offer from Welsh Government is as follows:

  • 5% already awarded (fully-funded)
  • An extra 1.5% fully consolidated
  • 1.5% one-off cash payment
  • This makes a total consolidated increase of 6.5% and an in-year boost for the current year of 8%
  • The money would be paid in April and backdated to September provided NEU Cymru pauses next week’s industrial action
  • For the next academic year 2023-24 unions can continue the dispute or accept a new 5% offer compared to the original 3.5% offer

The full text of the letter from education minister Jeremy Miles to unions, seen by Herald.Wales is as follows:

Dear all,

I would like to reiterate my thanks for the constructive talks we have had over recent weeks.

By working together, we have made good progress in a number of shared priority areas. During our meeting on Tuesday 7 th March, it was agreed I would write to you setting out the government’s position regarding the 2022-23 pay offer.

I hope that you would recognise that our talks over recent months have been productive and our negotiations conducted in good faith. However, we are fast approaching the end of the financial year and the 17th March deadline for practically delivering a payment in this year. I am concerned we have not yet agreed a deal for your members and that pupils risk missing out on more days of school.

The government has previously offered an additional 3% pay increase, of which 1.5% is consolidated and 1.5% is non-consolidated. This would mean members benefit from an 8% increase for 2022-23.

Despite this offer being rejected by both NEU and Nasuwt, I am willing, as a sign of good faith, to make this payment to teachers as soon as possible. As you know, the funds which we have managed to identify for this financial year would otherwise be used for other priorities, so I am keen to make sure that they don’t become unavailable for teachers’ pay due to the absence of overall agreement.

In return for the payment of the 3%, we would ask for full strike action, currently notified for 15th and 16th March to be paused, so that negotiations can continue. It is imperative that whilst we work together to seek a full resolution, we should not place pupils, in particular those preparing for and sitting exams, under additional pressure of losing more school days.

In light of that, we would ask for a suspension until the end of the academic year or until meaningful discussions have ceased. For those teaching unions who did not reach the legal threshold, we would request the same in respect of not re-balloting members during that time.

This solution will allow teachers to receive a significant back payment during this cost of living crisis, but it is also in the clear interests of Wales’s pupils, especially as the exam period approaches.

I believe making a payment without reaching an agreement and a significant pause of strike action while we continue discussions would be a strong signal of good faith from all parties and one which crucially benefits pupils and teachers whilst we seek a resolution.

I would like to be absolutely clear that I recognise that, despite making this payment, we would remain in dispute with the relevant trade unions and that the payment would not imply acceptance of the offer.

Notwithstanding the above, I believe we have an opportunity to settle this dispute in order to deliver in the interests of learners and your members. I am therefore prepared to propose that the current recommended pay award for 2023 – 24 of 3.5% be increased to 5% with effect from 1 September 2023. This would be a decision made without the need to refer that award to the Independent Welsh Pay Review Body and I confirm that it would be fully funded. If this proposal is accepted, taken together with the commitments on workload, we would regard the dispute as settled.

I would like now for us also to start delivering on the workload offer we have worked on together. My previous letter set out what the package available is.

Some unions have sought further clarity on some aspects. I believe we can best address those points by engaging on the substantive workload issues set out in the letter rather than negotiating the wording of the letter itself. That will allow us to get on with making a reality of the proposals.

For the avoidance of doubt we confirm that we are progressing a variety of issues relating to the deployment of teaching assistants in accordance with the existing arrangements we have in place. On the ‘no detriment’ principle, I can confirm that should conversations in England result in an offer for teachers and leaders which is higher than any pay settlement in Wales, we would match the pay award.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Miles, MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language

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Haverfordwest mayor vote descends into chaos as fiery dispute breaks out among councillors

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SCENES of pandemonium, including three councillors resigning and the mayor being called a disgrace to the town, broke out during the election of Haverfordwest’s mayor for the forthcoming year.

For most councils the election of mayor is almost a formality, the deputy mayor traditionally taking on the role.

However, Haverfordwest took a somewhat different view to allowing Councillor Jill Owens, a decorated former police sergeant who was once forced to resign after falling in love with an armed robber, to slide seamlessly into the role.

Despite there being no argument about Cllr Owen’s fitness for the role, the March meeting of the town council contained an agenda item considering applications for the 2023-24 mayor, with both Cllr Owens and Cllr Rhys Evans listed.

Haverfordwest Deputy Mayor and former Dyfed-Powys police sergeant Jill Owens at her home in Havefordwest – Photo: Ben Birchall / PA Media

Intention

From the outset of the meeting, the “wisdom and integrity” of that decision was questioned, with current mayor Alan Buckfield and town clerk Juliet Raymond coming in for flak.

Former town councillor Peter Lewis was one of several former town mayors present as members of the public, along with county councillor Tim Evans.

Mr Lewis said: “This council is being asked for the first time in its history to break its own rules,” adding that he understood no other nominations could be received if the deputy mayor had offered to stand – a motion in the meeting itself being needed to overcome this.

Citing the code of conduct, members raised concerns of “pre-determination,” with claims some councillors had already made their intention to vote for Cllr Evans clear.

Cllr Evans, formally making a proposal he be considered for election, said: “I have been approached by several members of the community asking if I would stand as mayor,” adding: “I think it would be negligent of me not to stand.”

Cllr Owens said the decision to take additional nominations was against the advice of One Voice Wales – the national representative body for community and tow councils in Wales – and that four councillors had pre-determined their vote by saying they would vote for Cllr Evans.

“There is a procedure in place, for hundreds and hundreds of years in this town, this hasn’t happened before.”

“Ashamed”

She told the mayor: “You, as a council – mayor – are looking to ride roughshod over the Code of Conduct, you will be responsible to the Ombudsman.”

She later added: “I would just like to put on record you should be ashamed of yourself Mayor, you and the clerk have ignored advice. It’s disgusting the way you have conducted this,” adding:  “You [Clerk Juliet Raymond] are a clerk on this council and you are not impartial.”

Cllr Buckfield, attempting to steer the meeting along, said: “You should be talking about procedure, not personality.”

He later said: “A chair can only do what council wants me to.”

Cllr Owens replied: “You are duty bound to abide by standing orders and the code [of conduct]; these people [the four said to have made their voting intentions clear] should’ve left. You [Cllr Buckfield] are a disgrace to the town.”

Councillor Jonathan Twigg proposed members actually support Cllr Owens taking over as mayor, a call that was not accepted by the mayor.

Members then voted to consider Cllr Evans take on the role of mayor, which was defeated.

After that vote failed, several councillors were seen leaving the meeting, with Councillor Richard Blacklaw-Jones, Councillor Gareth Roberts, and Councillor Rhys Evans formally resigning the following day.

After the deputy mayor was formally adopted as mayor for the following year, Cllr Evans said: “I just want to say – in the most humble way – congratulations. This council should always remember we are here to serve the people of the town.”

Cllr Owens said: “I am happy for the history of the town that the right result has happened.

“There are clear fractures in this council, let’s now try and move together and work together for the good of this town, and do a good job, let’s all support each other and work to one goal.”

“Change”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Owens said: “It’s never, ever happened in 900 years, the town council of Haverfordwest needs to change, it needs to be more open and transparent, at the end of the day justice did prevail.

“It wasn’t about me becoming mayor, it was about more being in the right place for the town, and that history continuing.”

Also speaking after the meeting, Mayor Alan Buckfield said: “I believe in democracy, I believe people have the right to express themselves in a proper and distinguished manner. The whole point of the debate was to test the standing order; to my mind the only way to test that was by voting.”

Relating to comments made about his fitness to drive he said: “In a debate on procedure and the interpretation of Standing Orders, there should be no place for personal remarks or references to illness and disability.”

He also expressed his concern about criticism of the clerk: “What really worried me about that meeting was the way the clerk was spoken to, the duty of care towards the clerk was sadly lacking.”

Clerk Juliet Raymond said: “Prior to the March full council meeting, I passed on the impartial advice given by One Voice Wales to every member.  This advice was requested by Councillor Jill Owens, Councillor Martin Lewis and Councillor Jonathan Twigg.”

Councillors Richard Blacklaw-Jones, Gareth Roberts and Rhys Evans have all been contacted for a comment.

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Residents challenge Carmarthenshire Council on abolition of Special Landscapes

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RESIDENTS publicly challenged Carmarthenshire County Council’s radical plan to scrap Carmarthenshire’s 18 ‘Special Landscape Areas’ at the Monday’s Cabinet Meeting at County Hall.

Planning Lead Cllr Ann Davies was grilled about the Council’s plan to axe Carmarthenshire’s 18 special landscapes and changes to its policy on putting cables underground.

Carmarthenshire is well known and widely appreciated for its beautiful unspoilt countryside. So much so that Carmarthenshire County Council had formally designated 18 such areas in its Local Development Plan, including the Towy and Cothi Valleys. Thereby affording protection within the planning system from detrimental development.

Significantly, these designations have been successfully used by residents to stop pylons and windfarms. These have included the Llanllwni Mountain Windfarm in 2014 and the Brechfa Windfarm cables where they now cross the Towy Valley underground.

But these Special Landscape Areas – and the protection the designation carries – are now being swept away by the new Local Development Plan currently under consultation.

Residents are concerned that the new Local Development Plan ‘double downgrades’ Carmarthenshire’s landscapes. Not only does it strip residents of an important tool to object to destructive development, it also slashes the amount of potential compensation or mitigation available. Great for developers – not so good for residents. And a major blow to the local tourism economy, which is based on the county’s greatest asset: our special, historic landscapes.

Residents’ campaigner Havard Hughes commented: “Carmarthenshire County Council has been quick to talk tough on pylons. However, their actions on the local plan speak louder than these words and jeopardise our landscapes. By taking this risky approach to our landscapes they are putting our tourism economy and heritage in jeopardy.

Natural Resources Wales has blown the whistle on the Council’s plans by questioning the loss of the Special Landscape Areas such as the Towy Valley. Yet Carmarthenshire County Council seems unwilling or unable to produce the evidence base for abolishing the Special Landscapes designation.

Councils across Wales are coming under huge pressure from developers to give them more freedom to put up pylons, windfarms and solar arrays. We fear that this plan as it stands will strip residents of tried and tested protections. These protections are good enough for our neighbouring counties such as Ceredigion and Swansea so why not Carmarthenshire?

The Plaid Cymru administration’s new Local Development Plan is the most radical rewriting of our planning rules since the creation of Carmarthenshire County Council. We will now be challenging them under the Freedom of Information Act to uncover the evidence for these changes.”

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Dramatic early hours rescue of 18-year-old in water by Angle RNLI

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THE RNLI Angle lifeboat launched on service shortly after 4am on Tuesday morning (Mar 28) to assist in the search for a missing 18-year-old in the Milford area.

The RNLI said on Facebook: “The lifeboat launched and proceeded to conduct a search from Conduit Beach, heading east.

“Once off Milford Docks entrance, the Y boat was deployed to conduct a more thorough inshore search, while the lifeboat continued east. Arriving at Wards Pier, the lifeboat intended to search back to the west to close up on the Y boat.

“Not long after, the crew spotted a person running down the coast path towards the beach below the Rath, followed by hearing cries for help.

“Using search lights, the crew then sighted a person in difficulty in the water waving their arms.

“The lifeboat was manoeuvred into the shallow water, close inshore with little sea room left and the casualty was brought alongside.

“With very little water below the lifeboat, and drifting ever closer to the shore the casualty was assisted into the lifting strops by the Y boat crew and then recovered from the water using the All-Weather Lifeboat man overboard recovery A frame and lifting tackle.

The rescue charity added: “With the casualty now onboard and receiving attention from our casualty care trained crew members, the lifeboat headed to the Port Authority jetty to warm up the casualty and await further assistance.

“Shortly after securing alongside, the crew were joined by members of Dale Coastguard Rescue Team and officers from Dyfed-Powys police.

“With the casualty now warmed slightly, they were walked off the lifeboat and handed over into the care of the police.

“Content that no further assistance was required from the lifeboat, the crew were stood down by the coastguard to return to station. After making the short journey home, the lifeboat was back on station and readied for service once again at 5:30am.”

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