Thursday, 14 May 2015

May meeting....all on best behaviour

This post was written after yesterday's full council meeting and before events unfolded a few hours later. Further comment on those events will follow later today.

With everyone on best behaviour for the cameras, the sharpened knives kept out of sight and a short prayer to 'speak intelligently', the meeting was over in an hour and a half. Most of it was taken up with a corporate presentation from the head of planning on the new planning bill. Kevin Madge decided, either by design or coincidence, not to turn up.

The chief executive, who had thought his premature tactic of removing all the committee reports from the agenda had finally silenced Cllr Bill Thomas, clearly thought wrong. Cllr Thomas ignored audible chirpings from the podium complaining that 'it wasn't on the agenda' and made his declaration anyway. Regular readers will know that Cllr Thomas has taken a principled stand against council planning policy exacerbating pollution problems in the Burry Inlet.

Cllr Emlyn Dole enquired as to what plans the council had in mind for the Drefach Campus of Ysgol Maes y Gwendraeth, which was closing in July and once the new school was built. Locals were concerned the site would be used to merge all the remaining village primary schools in the council's masterplan to accelerate rural decline.

Possible leader in waiting, Jeff Edmunds said that nothing was decided but it would all become apparent later in the year with the publication of an update on the council's Modernising Education Programme (MEP). Cllr Dole, who had had to suspend standing orders to ask a supplementary question, wanted a specific answer. In true leadership style, Cllr Edmunds passed it on to the officer, Mr Sully, who more or less repeated what had been said. It sounds like the locals in the upper Gwendreath valley were right to be concerned.

This is not just an issue in the Gwendraeth Valley of course. The preferred option for redundant school sites is to sell them to developers..a process being considered for Pantycelyn School site in Llandovery. One option for the old Tregib School site in Llandeilo is also to house the remaining village schools.
The plan to move Llanwrda and Llansadwrn Schools into Llangadog Primary have now been mothballed - they will undoubtedly still close, but I suspect that all three will move to either Llandovery or Llandeilo.

Part of the reason of course for the falling numbers in rural schools has been the MEP itself. It began life around ten years ago and created a masterplan for new shiny buildings and has proudly listed schools already closed and those it is going to close, for some years. This is enough to persuade parents, who want continuity in education, to send their kids to schools in the larger towns and indeed move there, in the first place.

Last year, after a lengthy wrangle, plans for the Executive Board and officers decide on school closures alone, without reference to full council were eventually shelved as clearly the final say should be a democratic one.

This was clearly only a temporary measure as 'concerns from stakeholders' that closures are taking too long have prompted another go. This time the idea seems to be to establish a Local Determination Panel (another committee) which could have the final say.

I understand that, despite requests, the much hailed MEP has yet to provide any sort of correlation between shiny new buildings and an improvement in education standards but who cares..the consultants and project management companies have made a small fortune and they're always good for a hard-hat photo op followed by a ribbon-cutting press release.

Anyway, I'm digressing and next up was the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales recommendations for councillor pay. The IRPW recommended no change from last year. Cllr Hazel Evans (Plaid) got up to speak and I thought for one moment she was going to recommend, given the tight budget, that they all take a moderate pay cut. But no, Cllr Evans wanted to express her disapproval that the Chair of the Council (so expertly occupied by Daff Davies for one more week) was getting £500 less than a scrutiny Chair. Outrageous, the Chair should have more!

The head of planning, retiring in September, then gave his presentation on the Planning Bill. This is reaching its final stage in the Senedd next week. I'm afraid you'll have to watch the webcast for the details.

Tune in for next week's instalment; the thrills and spills, leadership nomination(s), the shuffling of Chairs and the Civic Nonsense of Carmarthenshire Council's AGM.

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