Monthly Archives: June 2013

Why I support Leighton Andrews’ stance

Image

Photo credit: Wales Online, by Andrew James

It has not been an easy week for the former minister.  A tweeted picture of him at a demonstration opposing a school closure in his constituency has led to the First Minister asking him to resign.

He, however, has no regrets, and neither should he.

“It’s been an unexpected week, but I don’t regret standing up for my constituency.

 

“It’s important local people see they have a community representative with a passion who makes an effort to stand up for them.

 

“The issue for me is that all councils need to ensure they’re spending their money efficiently and in the correct way, including getting a grip on surplus places as this has an impact on money.

 

“But in addressing these issues it’s up to the AM to scrutinise these proposals and make sure they make educational sense and are in the best interests of the community.”

 

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/former-education-minister-leighton-andrews-4734959

I could not agree more with him.  Rosemary Butler and Paul Flynn both declined to even look at – let alone scrutinise – this proposal.  It is not in the best interests of the community and makes little educational sense. Yet neither of our senior elected representatives know this as they preferred not to hear about the proposal.

It’s important local people see they have a community representative with a passion who makes an effort to stand up for them.

Hear hear!

And my personal view is that Councils in some cases have used the vague cover of “surplus” as a kind of “catch-all”, “get-out-of-jail-free” card to push through other proposals they want to see happen, especially when they do not have the money to accomplish them in other ways.

I may of course be wrong, but the proposal to amalgamate our schools would seem to be an example of this.

They need an ASD school but cannot afford to build new, so they identify a school building which they wish to use then justify its closure using the WAG 10% surplus guideline (knowing full well that within 5 years neither school will have any surplus at all, and this September, the Infant school will have just 7% surplus).

There are other schools in Newport with similar or worse levels of surplus, but they are not facing this situation.

So, knowing more now, I still say “Bravo, Mr Andrews”.  You put your constituents before your high-level political career, and I’m sure they are rightly grateful and proud of you for doing so.

 

 

Tagged , , , , ,

Leighton Andrews….standing up for his own constituents

Image

Photo credit: @buffywills Elizabeth Williams

I came across this news story today, and my jaw dropped:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-23039749

Leighton Andrews has stood up and, as local AM, supported this school against its local Council’s attempts to close it.  Wow.

The Council says: “Rhondda Cynon Taf council (RCT) has just completed a consultation on closing Pentre Primary School which has just 73 pupils with a capacity of 202 – a 64% rate of unfilled places.

The council says this is the highest rate of all 138 schools in the borough, adding that as a result of a directive from Mr Andrews, they propose to deal with these surplus places by amalgamating Pentre with nearby Treorchy primary.

Mr Andrews responds: “As assembly member for the Rhondda I have made a very full submission to RCT on this issue, […] I have also attended a public meeting called by the Pentre parents action group, met the action group, and attended their recent demonstration. I have also met parents from Treorchy Primary school who are also affected by the proposal.

All local authorities, including RCT, have to reduce surplus places. There is clear Welsh government guidance which local authorities have to follow when they propose the closure of any school. My submission questions whether RCT have, in fact, properly followed this guidance.

I make no apology for standing up for my constituents in the Rhondda“.

And he shouldn’t have to.  He is doing his job as a local AM.  Something which our local AM, Rosemary Butler, refused to even look at.  “As, I am sure you are aware, provision of school places is a matter for the Local Education Authority and as I have no direct influence over such decisions I do not believe  a visit would be helpful  at this time.

It seems Mr Andrews would not agree with you there, Mrs Butler, that it is only a matter for the LEA.  As a local AM, you should have at the very least investigated our deep concerns, listened to us and met with us.  We even went to the Senedd – your office, so to speak – invited you to attend and you still did not show up to give us support.  That was left to your Conservative colleague, Mr William Graham.

And look who else is in the photo, local MP Chris Bryant.  Where has our MP, Paul Flynn been?  Erm, his response was “In the 26 years since I have been an MP, I have never become involved in issues of this kind. There are many issues for which I have sole responsibility. In this case the matter it is for your councillors and ultimately  the whole Council to decide. Your cases must be made to them.”

I’m not exactly clear what issues are his sole concern, but should they not be those that affect a significant portion of his electorate?

To be fair to our local councillors, they did attend one community meeting in January, at which Mark Whitcutt managed to offend a lot of parents (http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/10158731.Anger_as_parents_meet_over_Gaer_schools_merger/).  They did also attend the demonstration, if only to get us off the pavement and into the council chamber, where Cllr Whitcutt again managed to offend the whole room (http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/10449592.Newport_school_campaigners__disrespected__councillor/) , and Cllr Wilcox insinuated that I was only leading this campaign because I had ‘political ambitions’ (https://savegaerschools.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/the-meeting-with-the-councillors/).

So, not such great support then.

There is no conflict of interest for Mr Andrews so far as I understand it – his issue is not with the plan to reduce surplus in the area, nor even in that particular school, but the way the the consultation has been handled.  And in any case, I am sure he must recuse himself if the decision lands on his desk at the end of the process.  But I doubt the local Council will stand up to the Welsh Minister on this.  More than likely, they will not press forward with the Statutory Notice.  But, who knows?

He has also had the same concerns with his Welsh Minister for Education hat on, over the proposal to close another school – Rhosgoch school in Powys.  Again, the concern was the way the consultation was carried out, not the proposal itself.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-23036021

I wonder if our local LEA are starting to have any concerns that maybe – just maybe – they have conducted a flawed consultation too?

I hope that Mr Andrews sees the sense in our campaign when it comes before him, that he will see what we see – that the consultation is not only flawed, but also completely unnecessary and unjust.

I applaud Leighton Andrews, AM and Chris Bryant, MP on taking a stand for something they believe in.  Bravo, sirs!

What a shame our local councillors Mark Whitcutt, Debbie Wilcox and to a slightly lesser extent Herbie Thomas, as well as Rosemary Butler, AM, and Paul Flynn, MP are not so concerned with their electorate’s deep-seated concerns and objections.

Well, 2015 and 2017 are not so far away now, are they?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Journey to the Senedd….

Image

Well, we have finally come to the end of a long and fraught process.  Yesterday at 5.30pm, a small delegation from the Gaer went to the National Assembly in Cardiff to hand over a dossier of concerns, objections, and – most importantly – newly discovered information since the end of the Statutory Notice phase.

William Graham, AM facilitated the visit, and met us on the steps of the Senedd with the officer from Mr Leighton Andrews’ department.  We were extremely pleased that no less than FOUR Newport City Councillors came with us!  Cllr Miqdad Al-Nuaimi (Labour) has been a strong voice in this campaign, and a great support to our schools (he is on the Infants’ Governing Body).  Also joining us (having gone to the Bay specifically for this purpose) were Cllrs David Atwell, David Williams and Charles Ferris (Conservative).

We spent some minutes with the officer, handing over the dossier and also a smaller copy of the wonderful artwork book done by the families during the Family Learning Programme.  He was kind and professional, promising to pass everything to those handling this proposal within the department.

After that, the AM William Graham and all the Councillors stayed – still on the steps of the Senedd!! – to discuss further with us the situation and how it had come to this.

Cllr Atwell was particularly interested, as in the previous Administration (which ended in May 2012) he was Cabinet Member for Education and Children in Newport.  He was surprised to hear the way he have been treated, and said it seems we are being ‘rail-roaded’ into a single-site amalgamation.

All Councillors were surprised when I told them that we have recently received our full figures for September, and in Gaer Infants we will have reduced our surplus to just 7%.  Yes, you read that right – 7 PERCENT THIS SEPTEMBER!!

So all the Education Department’s claims that this proposal is to deal with ‘falling pupil numbers’ and to help us to come into line with Welsh Government guidelines of no more than 10% surplus are blown out of the water.

We also discovered that monies paid by the MonBank Sidings and Whiteheads Developers to help provide additional school places in the area for the children who will live in their development (called ‘Section 106 Monies’) will be going to Maesglas Primary as the Council anticipate the children will go there.  Now, whilst we don’t begrudge some money going to Maesglas, it raises a few questions:

1. Why have they not told us this before? We raised the issue of these developments back in December, and asked in our letters then where those children will go to school. 

2. When was the decision made that the money would go to Maesglas? 

3. Why is none going to the Gaer schools, despite the fact we are the same distance from the developments, and on a far safer walking route?

4. Why did Cllr Wilcox, who has publicly supported the proposal to amalgamate our schools on the Junior site, not admit at any point that the school at which she is a Governor (Maesglas) is going to receive this funding, even though I and others talked with her and the other Ward Members more than once about this specific issue – where the children would go and any funding that goes with them?

Some of you may also have read the ‘Summary Document’ that they sent us after the end of the Statutory Notice.  If not, you can find it here: http://www.newport.gov.uk/stellent/groups/public/documents/report/cont712658.pdf 

You may have been happy with the ‘promises’ made in it, that all community-funded equipment would be replaced, that the Head Teacher and the Shadow Governing Body would be the ones to decide which internal facilities are required, such as a happy room, library, multi-sensory room, etc and that there has been no limit set on how much money will be spent on creating the ‘new school’.

However, are these promises binding? Do they have to fulfill them if the proposal is agreed?  We (the Infants’ GB) have asked this question of the Legal Officer in Newport City Council, as well as of the Education Department and – surprise surprise – neither have answered the question.

What James Harris has replied, however is:

No costs can be clarified at this stage without an initial assessment of the site and provisional design concept which will be undertaken in consultation with the Headteacher designate, shadow governing body and statutory organisations. Tenders have recently been invited for the appointment of cost consultants to work closely with the client project manager to deliver the council’s 21st Century schools programme. The cost manager will be required to liaise with the design team and contractor to achieve the financial objective of containing the cost of the work within the available budget parameters without compromising the key aim of delivering fit for purpose 21st Century schools. The key stakeholders in the Gaer schools project will form part of the project team and will be available for decision-making to help progress the project to a successful conclusion.”

This is markedly different from the Summary Document, in which the Head and GB will be the ones to decide what facilities we would get, not just that they would “form part of the project team and will be available for decision-making to help progress the project to a successful conclusion“.

Equally, whereas the Summary Document claims that there is ‘no limit’ on the sum to deliver the ‘new school’, here he says “No costs can be clarified at this stage without an initial assessment of the site and provisional design concept which will be undertaken in consultation with the Headteacher designate, shadow governing body and statutory organisations. […] The cost manager will be required to liaise with the design team and contractor to achieve the financial objective of containing the cost of the work within the available budget parameters without compromising the key aim of delivering fit for purpose 21st Century schools.

Can you spot the glaring differences?!

And still no word on whether the promises are ‘legally binding’ (but I think we can safely assume, from the response above, that they are certainly not binding on them in any form at all).

So, now we just have to wait. Mr Andrews and his department will look at the proposal at some point in the coming weeks, though his department have told me they don’t expect it will be until after the end of term.

I have some confidence that he will see the truth of this situation, as we wrote in the letter to him, “The only reason why they will not consider [a split-site amalgamation] that really makes any sense, is that the LEA need a building for an ASD school and they have decided that the Gaer Infants is the one they will use.”

Thank you all so much for your support.  Thank you for writing letters and ensuring that our community knows the truth.  The Gaer Infants’ staff and Governors are so proud of our community, and thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

And as one of the Councillors said to me last night on the steps of our country’s government – “You must remember, you have right on your side, and that counts for a lot”. 

Amen to that!

A Welsh Fairytale…

Image

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a benign King who ruled his Kingdom with the Knights of his Round Table.

One day, the King’s servants approached a small hamlet, and told them that they had great news. The King – in his kindness – had been made aware of the parlous nature of the little village’s habitations, and was offering his subjects the opportunity to move to another area where he would provide them with much superior housing and farmland and barns for their animals.

The villagers were delighted. A wonderful new village?! They had long petitioned the Royal Courts for finance, which they had not ever received before, to improve their buildings, as they were getting old and in need of repair.

The first villager asked of the servants, “Where shall we be moved to?” And the servant replied, “Fear not, for the place chosen for you is just over the hill. Please, just sign this paper and we will arrange everything for you”.

That was good news, for they saw that they would not have to move far from their friends and relatives. But a second villager thought about this, and said, “But sir, there is no room over the hill for new houses and farms to be built, for it is already occupied by our neighbours”. The villagers realised this was a very good question, and waited for the servant to respond. “Fear not”, he said, “We will make sufficient room for you, your families and your livestock. Now, kindly sign this paper and we will be on our way”.

The villagers were, by now, starting to feel concerned. “Sir”, a third asked, “where will you build the new houses for us?”

“Ah”, stuttered the servant, moping his brow and looking nervous, “We will not be building new houses and barns for you, we are making space in the farms and homes of those who already live there. After all, you don’t really need all this space, do you?”

The villagers were shocked. Did he mean to remove them from their homes and expect them to live in other people’s houses? “Erm, what I mean to say is”, the servant stumbled on, “we do not have the money to build a new village for you, and the King has decided that it is better for business and trade if more of you live in a smaller area, for you can trade with each other more easily and the economy will improve. So, we really think that this is the best for you all.

You can learn from each other’s farming skills, and it will be so much easier to live much closer together, do you not think? In any case, the law states that a village must have no more than 10% empty buildings in it, and you have many more vacant properties than that, as does the other village. It makes sense to combine you all in one area”.

The villagers shook their heads in disbelief.  “But sir,” questioned another. “Those homes are empty because their occupants are away.  They will be returning soon – do you not remember? You told us so yourself in the village council last month.  You had had notice that they will move back shortly.  Why do we need to move to rid ourselves of the vacant properties?  They will not be vacant much longer, will they?”

The servant coughed a little, and said nothing.  The villagers grew perplexed.

Then one plucky inhabitant piped up, “Sir, what will the King do with our land when we are gone? For we have lived here a very long time and love this land and our homes, and we will be so very sorry to see it all taken away and descend into a fruitless waste”.

The servant pulled anxiously at his robe. “The…erm…the er…land will not lie idle,” he admitted. “The King has promised your village to others. They really do need a place to live as they have been wandering without a home for so very long”.

The villagers considered this. They knew of the people of whom the servant spoke, and had long supported their goal of a permanent home because they could see it was not easy to be lodged in other’s homes as the Wanderers had been forced to do. For the King had never provided them with a home of their own before. But now that they knew that the new home for the Wanderers was to be their home, they were not very happy at all.

“Why does the King want to waste money on moving us when he could just build a new village for the Wanderers?” one asked.

“The Tax Monies cannot afford the cost of a new village,” responded the servant. “It is a far better use of resources to give them a village which already exists.”

“But you are moving us out to make room for them! That is not fair. I do not think that your plan to move us into the homes of our cousins over the hill has anything to do with improving our lives. You just want us out of the way!” The villagers cheered this decisive blow.

But the servant was not perturbed. “On the contrary, my dear people. Our only concern is for your well being. But surely you do not expect us to leave the village deserted? And in any case, the plans are not linked at all.”

“Poppycock!” yelled an elderly lady. The villagers laughed. “You are just saying that. If you try to move me out of the home my family have occupied for generations, I shall tie myself to the village tree! You should be ashamed of yourself, trying to mislead us like that. Did you think we are just poor, uneducated villagers who would not see through your ridiculous plan?”

One villager, in an attempt to cheer everyone up, said “Do not worry, friends, for I am sure we will get a far better home over the hill. Yes, we may have less space, but we will have far better facilities, and we can take with us all our community assets that we have paid for over the years, so that we can make ourselves at home there, right sir?” He looked encouragingly at the servant, who only looked more uncomfortable.

“Well, you see….” he stammered. “Those things in the village, they are on the King’s land and so he…well…he owns them, and he has promised them to the new villagers as they have never had anything like that before. Do they not deserve these things too? Surely you can raise the money again to replace anything you think necessary. After all, you did it once, you can do it again!” He tried to be chirpy and warm, but his words died on his lips as he saw the faces of the villagers around him.

“Please, my dear people, sign the papers now. You must trust that the King knows best and he will ensure you get everything that the law allows for”.

“But what about the things that make our community great but are not enshrined in law?” shouted one very angry looking man.

“We will work out all the details once you have signed the papers”, squirmed the servant.

“But how can we sign something, agree to something, when you have given us no idea what we will get? How much is the King going to spend on moving us?”

The servant looked about. “I cannot tell you how much he will spend as until the time we are ready to move you we will not know. And in any case, if we tell you that, when we ask the carpenters how much it will cost to extend some of the buildings to squeeze you all in, do you not think they will give exactly that figure? You must understand, my dear people, this money is from the payers of tax, and we have a responsibility to spend it wisely and to use as little as possible on every project. It is your money, after all. You don’t want us to waste it, do you?”

The villagers were stunned. They were expected to sign and agree to something and they did not know if what they would get would equal or improve upon what they already had.

“What if we refuse?” one villager boldly demanded.

“Well, if you refuse, we shall just do it anyway as the land belongs to the King and he can do whatever he wants with it. Coming here to talk with you today was really just a courtesy, but as I can see I am getting nowhere I shall now leave. My wife is cooking a lovely chicken for my dinner. Please send in your objections in writing to the King. All your opinions will of course be taken into consideration.”

“But you just said even if we object you will do it anyway”, shouted an irate villager.

“Oh, my dear people, the King is not a despot. He will will listen to your complaints and make the decision he feels is best (once we tell him what that decision is),” the servant added under his breath.

“Where are our Knights?” the people cried. “They will fight for us for this is their home too, and they sit at the King’s Round Table. Surely they will explain to the King how unfair this is and why we cannot agree.”

The Knights surely did come to talk with the worried villagers. But they did not seem to understand the people’s concerns, and kept talking about moving into the 13th century and how they should be grateful that any money was being spent on them at all, as other villages would love to have such an investment.

“But you do not understand!” the villagers declared. “We do not know what we will get. The King’s servants refuse to tell us. They say we will find out after the decision has been made. How can we agree to that?” And on and on went the discussion, but to no avail. The Knights were determined not to break the Circle of the Table, and to stand in unity with the King and his servants.

Then the people remembered that one of the Knights had closed the local scroll swap shop, and now the elderly and the young had to travel far to the big city to be able to swap their scrolls. Many people had objected to that, but the Knight had gone ahead nonetheless, just as he had decided to end the displaying of artistic artefacts in the city even though the people cried out to him to save the display, and all to save the payers of tax some money.

And then a farmer reminded his fellow villagers that one of the other Knights was behind the decision to destroy a lovely tapestry depicting the city’s glorious history, because it was situated in an area that was to become a large market, and there was no space for it there. When the townspeople begged him to use some of their tax money to move it elsewhere, he replied that it would cost too much and would not be a wise use of their money, could they not see that?

So then the people’s shoulders drooped and they could see that their Knights were not going to ride in to their rescue. They would put their duties to the Round Table and their Knightly brethren ahead of their concern for their neighbours in the village.

And so the brave villagers stood up to the Knights and the King’s servants, and demanded answers (which they did not get) and asked for details (which were not forthcoming) of the plan to move them from their ancestral home.

Some suggested they were foolish to even try. Some said that they should be grateful that the King was willing to give them anything at all. Some said they should just trust the King’s Grace, that the ‘new’ village would be a vast improvement on the old.

But the villagers did not give up hope that the justice of their cause would shine brightly enough for the King and his servants and his Knights to turn their heads and consider their concerns.

That Truth and Justice and Fairness would win out, despite the odds, and that in the end they would gain a better, stronger future for themselves and their children and their children’s children.

The very fight itself made the village strong and united and reminded the people that in fact they had more power than they had thought. They also saw their Knights’ true colours, and vowed never to forget what the Knights had done.

The villagers came to believe that they, too, could live happily ever after.

Image

*This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 🙂

Tagged , , , ,