Jacob Williams
Monday 14th September, 2015

Problem Solva

Problem Solva

Part of the proposals debated at Thursday’s extraordinary council meeting was to consult the public on the discontinuation of Solva CP School.

Cutting a sorrowful figure, the local member Cllr. Lyn Jenkins – who’s also a school governor – addressed full council.

Council-watchers will know how much of a rarity it is for Cllr. Jenkins to say anything at all in the chamber so we were all ears when she rose to her feet.

And we were all hooked when she spoke of her shock at first learning of these proposals a week beforehand when the meeting’s agenda was produced.

With a very slim electoral victory in 2012 and the next election around the corner Cllr. Jenkins’ tear-jerking oration in defence of her school – which contradicted the report before council over its condition, among other things – seemed to have the desired result.

The solidarity was clear to see.

Within minutes fellow councillors were queueing up to criticise the situation that had been portrayed, sympathising with Cllr. Jenkins’ claim – treated as gospel – that she had been kept in the dark by council officers who drew up the plans.

And, of course, why wouldn’t they – to keep the local member out of the loop on such a big proposal would be a cardinal sin none of them would wish to suffer.

But following the meeting a picture began to emerge which, at the very best raised questions over Cllr. Jenkins’ memory.

Cllr. Viv Stoddart was the first to take issue with what Cllr. Jenkins had said. In an email the following day to Cllr. Jenkins’ independent party leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams, Cllr. Stoddart wrote:

Dear Jamie

I hope you will issue a public rebuttal today of the allegation made by your group member Lyn Jenkins yesterday, and as reported in the Western Telegraph, that the first she (Lyn Jenkins) heard of the threat of closure to Solva CP School was on Friday.

Not so.

Cllr Jenkins was present during Council on 16 July. She declared a personal interest as a governor of Solva School.

Agenda Item 8; Item 235 of the draft minutes cites proposals on secondary school reorganisation in mid and north Pembrokeshire. These suggested modifications to the original consultation were put to us in July for councillors to consider in September.

One of the proposals was to consider… “discontinue Solva CP School and establish a new 3-16 Church in Wales School…”

Cllr Jenkins asked for clarification about the site arrangements if there was to be this new all-encompassing school for the St Davids peninsula, and the status of Croesgoch School.

Cllr Jenkins was aware of the “threat to Solva School” in July, and has at best been disingenuous when she made her claim of lack of transparency on Thursday.

As Leader Jamie, I trust you will put the record straight?

Viv

Viv copied all councillors into her email.

That same day I and a few other councillors attended a seminar at County Hall. Among those was Cllr. Jenkins, who I met near the coffee table at the back of the committee room.

In the light of Cllr. Stoddart’s email I asked Cllr. Jenkins if, like she’d said the previous day, this was the first she’d heard of the plans to close her village school.

A decidedly stern Lyn responded “I made my statement in council yesterday.”

Having finished stirring my tea I was able to face Cllr. Jenkins and asked again: “but was that really the first time you heard about these plans?” to which she merely repeated: “I gave my statement in full council yesterday.”

With no denial nor confirmation, I decided she wasn’t backing down.

So maybe Lyn hadn’t been so categoric. Maybe in hindsight her remarks were widely misunderstood.

Certainly, every councillor present took her remarks to mean she’d never known of such plans before.

And within minutes of the meeting’s conclusion the Western Telegraph’s reporter – who was present in the public gallery – published a story titled: “Councillor kept in the dark over school closure proposals,” which included: “Local member for Solva, Councillor Lyn Jenkins, told today’s extraordinary council meeting that she had not heard that her local school was under threat of closure until Friday, when the agenda for today’s meeting came out.”

But maybe we’d all got it wrong?

I consulted the meeting’s webcast, to see how categoric Cllr. Jenkins had been that this was the first she’d heard of the plans.

You can judge for yourself:

“Unfortunately I have to start with pointing out that the first the governors, the head and the staff of Solva school and myself as the local member knew about the proposal to close Solva school was last Friday, when the information was put in the public domain. As you can imagine there were shockwaves throughout.”

Councillors weren’t the only ones to doubt the claim. An early comment posted on the Western Telegraph’s article by the user named “atebynawr” pointed to the possibility that Cllr. Jenkins had known of the proposals:

atebynawr 10:18am Fri 11 Sep 15
Truth and openness is not what politicians are known for. I suspect the councillor knew of changes to education in her area. The culture of change, openness and truth, within PCC is there for officers, (who don’t have the right of reply unless approved by the politicians). Unfortunately doesn’t seem to be there with those elected to represent the people of Pembrokeshire. I voice this as an opinion.

Added to the mix are also rumours of recent sightings of Solva CP staff at County Hall, where, you might imagine, this topic was on the agenda.

The irony of the situation is it’s entirely plausible that such a big decision could be made without the knowledge of key stakeholders – look at cabinet’s decision earlier this year to close all of the county’s community learning centres – but whether it happened with Solva CP was the burning question.

Not any more though – it seems Viv’s email smoked them out!

This morning a quasi first/third person statement appeared on the county council’s website admitting that Cllr. Jenkins’ comments “may have been misleading.”

With sentences containing: “In respect of my awareness,” and “some misunderstanding,” you get the flavour of this masterpiece, the like of which – churned out by the council’s press room – is usually only reserved for embattled cabinet members:

Solva school comments clarification

Pembrokeshire County Councillor Lyn Jenkins has made the following statement regarding her comments at Thursday’s Extraordinary meeting relating to Solva School:

“In respect of my awareness of the proposals to close Solva School, there appears to have been some misunderstanding.

“I do recognise that the matter was discussed in Full Council on 16th July and I subsequently met the Director for Children and Schools, Kate Evan-Hughes, on the 14th August to discuss the possible school closure and the ongoing arrangements in respect of governance of education in Solva.

“The Director followed up with an email on the 17th August responding to the concerns raised by me.

“However there was a misunderstanding as to whether the proposal was that education would remain on the site of Solva school as part of the proposal of a 3-16 school, or whether it would cease completely in the area. This was the issue I was trying to raise in Council.

“On reflection I realise that my statements may have been misleading.

“I have now arranged a further meeting with the Director to discuss the implications of the proposal for Solva and how the statutory consultation period will allow the community of Solva to express their views.

“The Director has also assured me she will meet with the headteacher and governing body at the earliest opportunity.”

Kate Evan-Hughes said: “I was pleased to meet with Councillor Jenkins today (Friday, 11th September) and to clarify what was clearly a misunderstanding around the terminology of ‘closing Solva school’.

The Director went on: “It is important to remember that this is the start of the consultation and that the opinions of parents, pupils and staff in all the affected communities will inform the recommendation to Council at the end of the statutory consultation period.”

Councillors still haven’t had a response to Cllr. Viv Stoddart’s email from the leader – nor from Cllr. Jenkins.

Cllr. Jenkins makes her statement 1 hour and 50 minutes into the webcast at this link.


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59 Comments...

  • Vivien Stoddart

    There can be no “misunderstanding” of Cllr Lyn Jenkins’ statement made in the public meeting of council on Thursday.

    She said “The first the head, the governors, the staff and myself as the local member knew about the proposals to close the school (Solva CP) was on Friday.”

    This morning’s press release concedes that Cllr Jenkins was aware of the proposal in July, and was in discussion with the director of schools in August about the future of the village primary school.

    I asked council Leader Jamie Adams on Friday to issue a rebuttal of his Solva member’s disingenuous remarks (to describe them kindly) but at the time of writing have not received a reply.

    Once again the ruling political group are closing ranks, and trying to spin their way out of trouble.

    No wonder this council has lost credibility.

  • Patrick

    A showboating politician trying to deflect criticism from her electorate. She has come unstuck and shown us her true allegiance by her willingness to mislead the electors.

    It is difficult to understand how she thought she would not be found out!

  • Keanjo

    If we didn’t have a webcast, she would have denied her words and the minutes of the meeting would have been adjusted accordingly.

  • Dave Edwards

    Let’s see what the Western Telegraph makes of Cllr Jenkins’ truth bending.

  • Flashbang

    Lyn Jenkins is not a fit and proper person to be either a school governor or a councillor. If she doesn’t resign I hope the mud from being caught out lying sticks with her.

  • Malcolm Calver

    The statement by Cllr Jenkins as recalled by Cllr Stoddart is quite clear and no matter how much Cllr Adams and County Hall tries to “cover up” his colleague’s remark/statement, it will not alter the situation.

    Small village schools like small town centres have I am afraid had their day and it is time to move on.

    Surely the quality of the education a child receives is more important than the location of the school and perhaps Cllr Jenkins should be concerned with this a little more.

  • Welshman 23

    If Councillor Jenkins was not part of the IPPG I wonder what the fallout would have been. However this councillor is a little forgetful and with her slim majority perhaps another IPPG member will bite the dust.

  • Mike

    Stick to the job in hand of trying to save a valuable part of the Solva community and not focusing on a person who may have made an incorrect statement. Communities like Solva are extremely rare in this current climate and need to be protected.

  • Quill

    Well said Malcolm. Solva school recently (December 2014) received a damning inspection report and consequently was put in special measures. The kids and their education must come first.

    On the same point Mike, I would argue if this school is failing then it’s not as ‘valuable’ as we would want it to be for our children. And there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that Lyn Jenkins made the incorrect statement like you suggest.

  • Ivor Whistle

    This plays straight into the Council’s plans; by putting up the smokescreen people are more interested in questioning a Councillor’s actions rather than the question at hand. Perhaps people need to focus on the community rather than its representative…

    And Malcolm, do you include Haverfordwest in your definition of ‘small town centres’? As if the krill dies, the whales die too.

  • Mike, Ivor, clearly it was deemed necessary to issue a statement (or smokescreen as you call it!) so scrutiny over competence is warranted, but you both raise questions which might be best put to the local member in question – the person expected to ‘focus on the community.’

    Clearly, she wasn’t able to do so without making up false allegations. I don’t see how that helps to save a school which is already in difficulty.

  • Ivor Whistle

    Jacob, they are two different questions. I think people need to be aware of the statements made, but also need to ensure that the needs of the community are not forgotten by the smokescreen. As to the question of competence…

  • Dave Edwards

    Ivor, I am at a loss to see how Solva is helped by its councillor telling lies.

  • Ivor Whistle

    Dave, it is not helped at all; the point I was making is that it is in the council’s interest for the comments made, by the elected councillor, deflecting comments away from the question of closure.

  • It’s an interesting angle and to be fair I’ve even heard others mulling over the possibility it was all a setup!

    They could never stoop so low!

  • Ivor Whistle

    The best form of defence is attack…

  • I note that the Western Telegraph website has now covered what it calls Lyn Jenkins’ u-turn:

    http://www.westerntelegraph.co.uk/news/13721017.Solva_county_councillor_s_u_turn_over_school_closure_comments_slammed_as__spin_/

    Unfortunately the WT either didn’t ask Cllr. Jenkins for a comment or she hasn’t provided one.

    Ironic that she would hide behind the council press office’s spin statement, given that her accusation in the council chamber related to a lack of transparency!

    Surely some direct questions and unscripted answers from an elected politician would be more appropriate. Maybe the Pembrokeshire Herald will oblige?

  • Ivor Whistle

    Was all of this orchestrated to take away the ‘heat’ from the Cleddau Bridge accounting fiasco?

    If they are not sure whether they are millions in the red or actually in profit, are the same people claiming that by closing/amalgamating schools they will save money? I would suggest that they understand the figures they are looking for first, otherwise they may be throwing good money after bad.

    As an aside, if it were proven that they made ‘flawed’ decisions, based on inaccurate assumptions, who could be sued for the subsequent loss? May I suggest that each councillor is reminded of their obligations to their respective communities, and not to their personal aspirations. Then, hopefully, they would make competent decisions. We live in hope!

  • Welshman 23

    Councillor Jenkins does not participate in many debates, when she is called upon to make a speech to defend Solva School she makes a pig’s ear of the speech. If she is a school governor after the damming Estyn report she should have considered her position.

    Jacob, if someone makes a speech and the facts are strictly not true, what is the protocol, outside of the council chamber? It is a serious situation. What ramifications could be forthcoming?

    As a former pupil the late headmaster Leslie James would be very disappointed at the poor Estyn report and the school in special measures.

  • Dave Edwards

    This brings into focus what the role of the Council’s press office is.

    I wonder if it would put out statements by opposition members about the complicity of officers in altering minutes or of leading members’ expenses claiming habits. I doubt it!

    Perhaps if Cllr Viv Stoddart asked the press office to put out officially her comments on the matter we could test the water.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Of equal concern is the Council ‘working at risk’ with the development work at Pembroke School underway. I assume it goes without saying that contracts have already been signed with the developer, containing hefty fall out clauses in case of non fulfilment by either party.

    There is no coincidence that YDS pupils will be heading to a sixth form centre because without this centre the college won’t be able to join the council in the development of Pembroke School.

    It is questionable who exactly is on the 21st Century schools committee and who authorises contract signings. Cabinet have noted the 21C committee’s actions but the meeting was told it hasn’t been ‘signed off by Cabinet or Council’.

    It’s unfortunate that Solva school has been dragged into this fiasco and looks to be among the biggest losers although both Haverfordwest schools must be pondering what the outcome will be for their campaign to keep a school-based sixth form, should the consultation process lead to a sixth form centre being established in Haverfordwest for YDS/YBG students.

    Ivor Whistle may well be throwing the cat amongst the pigeons by commenting that it is just a diversion manufactured by the Council however he needs to get in the real world where this debacle is happening in front of our noses.

    There seems to be more people getting into Farmer Adams’ ship to sail up the Cleddau. I’m not sure how many (if any) paddles are left with this ship but Tenby RNLI best be on standby…

  • John Hudson

    Given the circumstances surrounding the departure of the former CEO, which are only known to those “on the inside”, would it be reasonable to “audit” all of the strategies, projects and schemes initiated under his direction?

    Although the Cabinet have been instrumental in pushing these forward through Council, with the IPG majority, it might have even crossed their minds that there may be some questions to be asked and answered.

    My understanding is that the 21st Century Schools initial bid was submitted by officers without Cabinet/Council approval and resulted in Pembrokeshire being awarded one of the largest programmes cost wise in Wales.

    This I fear was bounced on councillors at a budget time, when some £13m, originally set aside for other service earmarked reserves, was reallocated to prime the 21st Century Schools reserve on officers’ advice/delegated authority.

    From what I have read since, WG are pushing the new school transformation or nothing policy.

    Can anyone shed light on Pembrokeshire’s initial involvement in this programme?

  • Malcolm Calver

    Ivor, I do not want to sidetrack the Solva school debacle but it is the consumers that decide if a town shrinks and dies.

    I am afraid it is a slow process. Looking at Pembroke Dock, the town closest to me which now has one fifth of the shops I remember from my youth, it does not have much life left in it.

    The town’s mayor Cllr Peter Kraus has indicated his belief that the new store to be constructed on the old Silcox garage site in Pembroke Dock is wonderful news for the town. I have no objection to the store but it will be a further nail in the coffin for the Pembroke Dock shopping centre.

    I may be wrong in my assumption, maybe the good people of Pembroke Dock are going to consume more food or there are secret plans afoot at County Hall for a mass influx of immigrants into the county.

  • Tessa Hodgson

    Jon Boy Jovi makes an interesting point and one that I have raised on several occasions. I am currently waiting for an answer from the leader as to when and who authorised the start of work at Pembroke and what is the value of the contracts which have been entered into.

    This an extract from the minutes of the 21st Century Schools Strategic Programme Management Board from the 4th Feb 2015:

    Pembrokeshire College had stated that unless 6th form provision for the north of the county was accommodated on its Haverfordwest campus they would not be able to proceed with the vocational centre for the Pembroke Learning Campus as they could not afford to have surplus places in Haverfordwest.

    Says it all…

    This is the membership of that board:

    Councillors J L Adams, Pat Davies, Susan Perkins and Mrs S Lusher, Principal, Pembrokeshire College

    Officers in Attendance:

    Mr I Westley (Acting Head of Paid Service)
    Dr B Pykett (Deputy Chief Executive)
    Mrs K Evan-Hughes (Director for Children and Schools)
    Mr D Thomas (Head of Highways and Construction)
    Mr S Jones (21 st Century Schools Programme Manager)
    Miss N Lewis (Finance Manager)
    Mr H Jones (Professional Officer – Planning Places & Admissions)
    Mrs E Prout (Committee Clerk)

  • Welshman 23

    Good point Ivor Whistle, add to the endless list which includes the grant fiasco in Pembroke Dock and the new building work at Pembroke School.

    What is our new CEO doing about these issues? We needed someone to direct, show strong leadership, and put the name of Pembrokeshire back where it belongs. I think as usual we have employed the wrong person. He should have come out and shown strong leadership – he would have known what was going on having already worked at PCC.

    Is there an Estyn equivalent to evaluate the performance of PCC?

  • Ivor Whistle

    Jon Bon Jovi, that is the very point I am making – by putting up a smokescreen, we may miss something happening right under our noses, and I do think that I live in the real world. I think though that Tenby RNLI may need help from St Davids and Little Haven and Angle…

  • John Hudson

    I note from the return of contracts over £50,000 let as reported to Cabinet, that a contract for Architectural Services 21st Century Schools post 16 & vocational education requirements was let during October 2014 and March 2015.

    This contract, let by “Mini completion under the South West Wales Regional Property Consultancy Services Framework” was for a period commencing 1.3.2015 to 30.9.2020, estimated to be worth £1.276m.

    Presumably the contract for the works at Pembroke was let after the Architectural Services had been bought in. No doubt details of this contract are to be reported to Cabinet in the next 6 months report due after 30 September 2015.

  • The Rock

    To know or not to know? That is the question.

    It appears that selective amnesia is sweeping through the ranks of the IPPG regarding the 21st century schools programme.

    The member for Solva forgets critical details about the programme that affect her local school. Then Leader Adams seems to be conveniently unaware of the situation in Ceredigion regarding their successful school based A level education system when trying, eventually, to answering Councillor Nutting’s question (45.38 into webcast).

    The following link to a recent press release my help him. Is this just incompetence or something more sinister?

    http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/English/Resident/News/Pages/A-Level-Successes-In-Ceredigion-Schools.aspx

  • John Hudson

    What a masterpiece of admin engineering. A “board” is not subject to the political numbers game.

    The deputy CEO was put in charge of the 21st century schools programme by the former CEO under his authority to manage the operational management requirements of the council.

    Presumably the deputy CEO has the general blanket delegated directors’ authority to carry out or implement the board’s decisions.

  • Quill

    All interesting comments which makes one wonder how many more deals have been drawn up by officers without sight of our elected representatives.

    I was told by a parent of a pupil that the current construction work at Bush is preliminary groundwork. However according to the invaluable John Hudson the architectural services fee of the whole 21C Schools project (which probably includes other builds) is into the millions.

    So even before a shovel broke soil a lot had been invested. Again, no decision it would appear from councillors!

    Cllr Hodgson, if Jamie Adams does ever respond to your query it would be nice to know what he has to say!

  • Brian

    So the 21st Century Schools Board doesn’t have anybody from a school on it just Pembrokeshire College? And now we find Haverfordwest embarking on a programme that means more funds tracking across to Pembrokeshire College and school sixth form closures…shum conshidence I’m sure!

  • Ivor Whistle

    Where is the source of these funds? Is it directly from WAG? or does it get channelled through PCC (with suitable ‘admin charge applied)?

    In that sense, who is actually pulling the strings?

  • Dave Edwards

    Ivor, the total value in Pembrokeshire is £149.86 million with 50% from WAG (£74.94m) and a similar amount from PCC.

    The projected allocation is:-

    Broadhaven – £2.45m, Johnson – £6.613m, Tenby – £8.503m, Hakin – £11.022m, Pembroke Learning Campus – £42.40m, Secondary Provision – £78.87m.

  • John Hudson

    An excellent question Ivor.

    On 8 October 2012 Cabinet approved proposals to implement the 21st Century Schools programme. This report referred to the Welsh Government’s approval of PCC’s bid for a £150m programme submitted in Autumn 2010.

    This report listed the programme by project/school and may be an illustration of predetermination and or predisposition for unfolding events. (This report is well worth looking at.) It did not delve into financial implications or potential consequences. It did however establish management arrangements and the Board.

    At some stage, the former CEO revised his management arrangements for corporate governance and the deputy CEO (formerly Assistant CEO) was tasked with the 21st Century Schools Programme.

    The 2014/15 budget report to Council on 6 March 2014 provided detail of revised shared funding arrangements:-

    2.5 21st Century Schools Capital Programme

    The funding requirement related to the Council’s 21st Century School investment programme remains a key issue in the financial planning process.

    An investment of £149.9m has been provisionally agreed with Welsh Government over the period from 2013/14 to 2018/19.

    The Welsh Government had initially committed to fund this programme with capital grant support at the rate of 50% of approved expenditure (£75m). However, the announcement on 11th December 2013 has changed an element of this funding arrangement with the introduction of a 21st Century Schools Local Government Borrowing Initiative, the practical effect of which is to convert some of the Welsh Government capital grant into supported borrowing by way of an annual allocation of £10m/annum for Wales over thirty years – the equivalent of £170m capital investment. In short, local authorities will finance capital expenditure with borrowing, supported by Welsh Government, in substitution of capital grant.

    The table of earmarked reserves in the 2014/15 accounts shows an allocation of £19.594m as the 21st Century Schools reserve on 1 April 2014. A further contribution of £1.829m was made during 2014/15 from revenue accounts bringing the total 21st Century School reserve to £21.423m on 31 March 2015.

    At a time of severe budget restriction it is good to know that our council can find resources to increase funding for the full approved programme.

  • Ivor Whistle

    Thanks for the details Dave and John; there’s a little bedtime reading.

    I couldn’t find any details though on the impact of amalgamations of PCC with ‘A N Other’ council, as obviously that would have some impact, or is it so far down the line that it’s not a problem to the current council?

  • Dave Edwards

    As you can see, the difference between current reserves for the program and the total needed is around £53 million.

    Even allowing for the expenditure to date I still anticipate the need to find around £45 million in the next 3 years if the prospective projects are to be achieved.

    Maybe the best financial outcome would be for PCC to complete the primary school reorganisation in Band A (by 2018) and leave the secondary schools alone especially as neither the Angle peninsula nor the Solva/St Davids school projects have been costed into the published figures.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Dave, a key point is they have started the secondary school development programme with the ground works for the new Pembroke campus already underway. There is no going back and Pembrokeshire College is intrinsically a key component in the Council’s ‘transformational’ secondary school redevelopment programme.

    The consultation process in the north will be an interesting debate – will one of the consultations offer the students a sixth form alternative to attending the ‘sixth form centre’ within any new Haverfordwest super school [although I have my doubts as to any new school being anything other than 11-16]?

    Once the restructure of education is complete in the ‘north’ including a new sixth form centre, the next stage of development will be a sixth form centre for the south based at Pembroke. By 2019 there will be no school offering A Levels to our students.

    The biggest concern to this escapade of reshaping education in the county is that no head teacher was on the 21st Century Schools Board to give a balanced view.

    The current Director and her predecessor haven’t been mindful of the students in this process at all whilst the Councillors on this ‘quango board’ have not listened to the community or pupil voice. Delegated powers allow them to run roughshod through this process and leave a sour taste amongst many people, young and old.

    You can just see a judicial review in the wings in relation to the debacle escalating into a full blown bitter war between the IPPG Councillors and their electorate, which will rumble well into 2017…when the next County Council elections are due.

    You just wonder how many of the IPPG will stick together on this when they realise their gravy train may well stop at the next station. Case in point Councillor Jenkins – she should look before she leaps or at least go back to remaining a quiet follower on the back benches. I’m sure the community voice that is Solva will speak volumes in proposing their next Councillor in due course.

    In the mean time there is the small matter of finding the estimated £45 million that Dave has given as a figure to complete the projects. Worrying times in the short to medium terms methinks!

  • Dave Edwards

    Jon Boy, whilst I agree with your assessment of the council’s overall strategy, my understanding is that if the sixth form centre in Haverfordwest doesn’t go ahead the college will not see the case to transfer 400 places to Pembroke. As a result the youngsters in the south will be expected to travel to Haverfordwest as they do at present, so the need for the already started building will not make a sensible business model.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Dave, the need for a second vocational training base shouldn’t in anyway impact on any formal educational model, ie A Level courses.

    There may well be a case for more vocational training and indeed a venue in the south may well be required. Unfortunately the voice of the college weighs more than that of the community and indeed the pupils.

    They have had an invitation to feast at the top table having a direct input into the formation of the model which has been on the table for far longer than the consultation process. The input from the headteachers of the schools involved has been minimal by comparison.

    Two choices now: do the Council front this out, ignoring the strength of voice from the pupils, communities and indeed the majority of professionals involved or do they cut their losses in the current plans in progress and negotiate a new model for the college involvement?

    Whichever way this coin lands there are going to be big losers. Either the council’s coffers are seriously diminished from the ‘working at risk’ by starting the Pembroke project or indeed the individual IPPG councillors will face the wrath of the electorate: two years is a very short space of time so the pressure builds daily on Farmer Adams and his crew. This window of opportunity open to the Council will certainly be transformational.

  • John Hudson

    Can somebody explain the likely effect on our services following the change in WG grant from the original bid basis of a WG 50% [£75m]/PCC 50% [£75m] capital to “the practical effect of converting this to some of the Welsh Government capital grant into supported borrowing by way of an annual allocation of £10m/annum for Wales over thirty years – the equivalent of £170m capital investment.”

    So far as I can understand this cloudy funding issue, PCC’s contribution towards the 21st Century Schools Programme earmarked reserve, its capital reserve has been met from revenue contributions, A) by way of a transfer from reserves originally earmarked for other revenue services, B) direct revenue contributions from other services C) proceeds from the sale of council property and D) surplus council tax income.

    I suppose the basic questions are:

    How were we led into this programme of £175m?

    How was it proposed that our £75m share could be met?

    Has the change in grant changed the dynamics of what the county can afford, bearing in mind the severe financial constraints now being placed on the ability to provide revenue for the annual delivery of services?

    What will happen when interest rates rise?

  • Dave Edwards

    Jon Boy, my guess is that the need to avert a potential financial loss will outweigh all other considerations. The result of this will, as you suggest, strengthen the college’s hand and leave them calling the shots.

    As all the opposition politically is coming from non-IPPG members, and none of Jamie’s troops have put their heads over the parapet, I doubt if the public’s opprobrium will fall on individual IPPG councillors in 2018.

  • Keanjo

    If the process requires pre consultation with interested parties, has the Council acted illegally in starting work before completing the consultation process and if the operation is officer-led are the officers responsible in law for any losses which could arise?

  • Flashbang

    Are consultancy fees being paid to anyone and if so, who?

    What has been their role and how did they get involved? Who hired them?

  • Dave Edwards

    Flashbang, consultancy fees are about to become a much more discussed item as I understand external support is going to be brought in to provide a strategic overview of the council’s budget with the aim of ending the salami slicing approach to cuts and to go for major cuts.

    Incidentally, this will be an executive decision taken by Ian Westley with no reference to members and no budget provision either.

  • Malcolm Calver

    The major failure over recent years has been to provide county councillors with a full detailed list of the expenditure on non-statutory services carried out by the council.

    The ex Director of Finance informed me many years ago that a list was being prepared but it was not produced as far as I am aware. There is the possibility that it was produced and only a select few were informed.

    The decision on what is reduced or ended should definitely not be a decision taken by Ian Westley but by elected councillors. The electorate would then be given the chance to judge councillors on their decisions.

  • Keanjo

    Malcolm Calver is entirely right, the Chief Executive should be given objectives and instructed by the Cabinet to carry out a review and report to back to them with his assessment and recommendations.

    The Cabinet should then consider the report and instruct him to make any alterations they feel appropriate. When the CE’s recommendations meet their requirements they should be presented to the full Council for detailed consideration and approval before any officer-led implementation.

    The cuts needed will inevitably be severe and widespread and it is important they have the full support of all the representatives of the county.

  • Phil

    Of course these decisions should be councillor ones with officer advice, and proper costings, being important. Nor should all non-statutory services be considered disposable – the removal of play areas and the mushrooming of childhood obesity problems being just one.

    Mind you, some statutory services appear to be only token efforts. Street cleaning is one, yet the main shopping street in Pembroke Dock – Dimond Street – has weeds 18″ high on the pavements, and a good crop of grass. (The common sort – not the smoking sort as recently found in the town according to the Western Telegraph). The only cuts the council could do there is with a scythe.

  • Dave Edwards

    Malcolm, like you I asked in the recent so called “Budget Consultation” for a list of mandatory and discretionary items.

    In public Cllr Huw George promised me a list so I could suggest cuts on the discretionary items. Not wishing to impugn his integrity I believed him – mistake!

    After four weeks of emails I received the following from Jon Haswell “…the council does not maintain a specific document which lists all its mandatory and discretionary services and their related budgets”.

    How can we have faith in such a system?

  • Cabinet has been (and I’m sure will continue to be) tasked with approving some service changes, but as I understand the process going forward, decisions over departmental/service closures or reconfigurations will be reflected in the budget – drafted by officers – laid before full council for approval.

    So it is technically true that, if approved, cuts which result in service changes will be made by all elected councillors, but as we saw at this year’s budget meeting, attempts to amend the budget on the day were overruled on what many believe to be questionable official advice.

    Whilst officers have delegated powers to hire external consultants without members’ authorisation, all or some of their findings will be compiled into a budget which it would be fair to say councillors have little influence over, other than a vote to accept or approve.

    The ability for members to influence the council’s budget is currently a much discussed topic in the council right now.

  • Ivor Whistle

    So, based on your comments Jacob, who exactly IS in charge?

    With responsibility comes blame – it may well be that the systems employed (and it must be said, deeply embedded) in PCC ensure that no one can be held to account, as they have all ‘followed the system’.

    It is my understanding from all of the above, that WAG has PCC over a barrel with regard to the capital investment. What is more worrying is that little thought has been given to the ongoing running costs of those new schools etc.

    If there are in fact ‘economies of scale’ from closing schools and sixth forms, these need to be quantified and justified.

    I agree that there is only so much in the pot. What PCC must do is ensure that it receives value for money, not continue with the merry-go-round we seem to see on most of the meetings to date.

  • Keanjo

    Jacob, with the system you describe the County Council will be faced with a fait accompli and you will not be given the opportunity to influence the cuts to be made.

    Officers will naturally wish to protect jobs, particularly those of their colleagues in County Hall, and this might well be the wrong option in the present circumstances.

    The management structure may well need fundamental change and members must be allowed into the process well before approval of the budget stage.

  • Flashbang

    Dave Edwards, thanks for the information about the council once again peeing taxpayers’ money up against the wall. Money that could well stave off closure for some community service somewhere no doubt.

    Let’s hope these consultants have the brains to realise it’s the council staff that needs culling before the community services. What is the point of having council staff if none of them are competent in anything they do? Why are they paid for doing nothing? There, one consultancy service free of charge!

  • John Hudson

    I am surprised that councillors knowing so little about the content of annual budgets, and having so little influence over them can vote them through, “having taken account of all relevant considerations”.

    Still it’s only our money that provides the Council’s funding.

    More worrying is councillors’ lack of accountability, understanding and knowledge on what is actually spent under officers’ delegated powers throughout the year.

  • Ivor Whistle

    I think that sums it up well John. If the Council cannot be sure whether the Cleddau Bridge is at a huge loss, or is in fact trading at a surplus, what hopes have we of them understanding a complex budget.

    My concern is that they are too concerned with obtaining funds from WAG (by ‘inducement’) to enter into capital expenditure without fully appreciating that there will be ongoing costs to maintain the schools/sixth form/college.

    What they need to consider is whether the costs they are looking to incur will actually achieve the ‘economies of scale’ they have been promised.

    The concern is that, given their past performance in understanding budgets and income and expenditure, they will act for the good of the minority, which may well be the unelected officers who actually pull the strings.

    The problem lies with the term ‘informed decision’. If you are basing a capital commitment on flawed figures, who is responsible if that decision is subsequently found to be erroneous?

    I would suggest that they sometimes are unable to see the wood for the trees…

  • John Hudson

    There was an interesting debate at yesterday’s corporate governance committee, concerning Councillors’ powers/authority to make budget amendments that involved any staffing level changes.

    It would appear that officers’ rather cloudy legal advice, hitherto, has been that this could not be done because the CEO’s statutory responsibility included arrangements for the delivery of services, including staffing levels. (Keep your noses out – leave it to me, I wonder where this advice came from?)

    It was notable that the Council’s in-house legal advice supported this view. Now I have been always been under the impression that our elected councillors set the financial parameters within which unelected officers had to manage the Council’s affairs.

    Exceptionally, three officers have limited statutory protection to set the resources they think necessary to carry out their statutory duties, to prevent hindrance and or interference by councillors. The CEO, the Section 151 finance officer and the monitoring officer.

    Non-IPG members made the point that, if this council’s broader interpretation extended to all resources fell within the CEO’s rules, then there was no point in them being there or going through the farcical procedures of members’ budget seminars etc.

    Councillors also debated their response to WG’s local government reorganisation plans. It seems that the rather secretive Local Service Board, made up of unelected senior officers from the council, the health board, police and emergency services, including Welsh Government, has already been working towards “collaborative” working across many fronts.

    This is happening under the feet of our unaware elected representatives who will no doubt be put in the position of rubber stamping the CEO’s proposals without any involvement/debate in the formative stages.

  • John Hudson

    Ivor, all council income goes into its central general fund, regardless of its source. Hence the council’s accounts have to be drawn up on this basis.

    The trouble with the Cleddau Bridge is that it is funded through tolls under an Act of Parliament that sets out clearly how toll income should be used.

    In the early years the bridge made annual operational losses that were met from other moneys of the council as allowed in the Act. At some stage these were paid off and thus annual operational surpluses accrued.

    These annual surpluses were applied to reduce the rate borne cost of other county wide highways and transportation services. They have been spent.

    The Council would seem never to have defined the other matters of a transport nature that it is allowed to have regard to in its assessment of tolls. So toll payers do not know what they are paying for.

    The external auditor investigated and identified the three possible outcomes which the council has to clarify. The Council has already confirmed that the £64m notional accumulated deficit does not exist. So we are left with the two possible levels of surplus toll income, £9m or £19m.

    These could have been set aside as a special bridge reserve (as provided for in the Act) to pay for future bridge repairs but, as above, it has actually been spent.

    From an article in last week’s Pembrokeshire Herald, the council leader is reported as commenting “the financial prudence shown by the Council in running the Cleddau Bridge has ensured that the cost to the motorist of using the structure has remained constant throughout the life of the Authority”.

    I would suggest that this was, and is not, the purpose of the Act, which requires the council to assess the level of tolls on an annual basis and quite clearly states that tolls should be set at levels to produce a sum not substantially more nor substantially less than that required for the several specific purposes defined in the Act, and also categorically states that toll money can only be used for the purposes of the bridge as defined in the Act.

    Notwithstanding the “prudence” claimed by the leader, the council is required to sort this mess out by its external auditor, the Wales Audit Office.

  • Ivor Whistle

    I do not believe that the Wales Audit Office can actually ‘sort out this mess’, as the role of the auditor is to form an ‘opinion’ as to whether the accounts show a true and fair view and are in accordance with the relevant Act. So if surpluses are being allocated to other expenditure, these may fall foul of the relevant Act, the WAO should report accordingly.

    It was my point that I do not believe that the Councillors’ ‘en bloc’ actually understand fully the figures that are being placed before them. In that sense, are correct decisions actually being made?

    Sometimes it is the simple questions that need to be asked; such as ‘how did you get to that figure??’

    The simple questions would be, will this course of action actually result in the claims made? I.e will the cost of centralizing the sixth form education actually save money, whilst ensuring that our young people have a good education?

    There are of course ‘non fiscal effects’ which should be brought into the equation too. How much do we actually value or children’s education?

    I’m not sure I’ll get an answer I can understand from PCC…

  • John Hudson

    Having investigated the finances of the Cleddau Bridge, the auditor could not agree with the council’s view and asked the council to obtain independent legal advice to support its use of toll income.

    Apparently that advice hinges around the finances of the bridge being neutral, between costs borne by toll payers and costs borne by ratepayers over the life of the project. This advice would appear to justify the council’s approach and may have been slanted by the question asked.

    As far as I can see, being unencumbered by legal or financial qualifications, and without a position to protect, this long term view does not appear in the terms of the Act. The Act would rather suggest that costs and tolls should be reviewed and revised in tandem as time and demands for funding move on.

    Incidentally, the Act provides for a bridge reserve to be operated for future maintenance requirements, funded by surplus toll income, but the amount of the reserve is capped. So current toll payers would not be contributing unfairly toward future long term bridge costs.

    For 20 years this council has been in charge of “The Bridge”. It used the “notional” accumulated deficit as an argument to dissuade other bodies (Welsh Government) from taking the bridge over, by requiring its full reimbursement as a pre-condition.

    Under the Act, toll payers owed ratepayers this “notional” debt, which was allowed to accumulate by the council. But as this does not exist, we are now left with the potential of two identified amounts of accumulated toll surplus, which it would seem ratepayers owe toll payers, but which the council has spent. The real hard cash debt would appear to have been repaid.

    Why has the council been so against revising tolls? The current toll charges would appear to produce annual surpluses which the council has not justified or explained in terms of the use to which they have been applied and which are restricted by the provisions of the Act.

    Any proposal to revise tolls requires public consultation, and a full exposure and justification against the provisions of the Act.

  • Arnold Williams

    Although the Estyn report on Solva school was critical, most of the issues raised have been addressed. The school is very good and if I had children of that age I would be very happy for them to attend Solva school.

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