Monday, 23 February 2009

Plaid return to attack over education

The Plaid group of councillors on Carmarthenshire County Council have again criticised the selective approach of the county council to educational re-organisation. Despite clear assurances from the Education Minister that the detail is entirely a matter for the county council, the county council leaders continue to maintain that they are following instructions given to them by the Assembly Government.

Plaid Cllr John Edwards said, “I cannot understand why the county is rushing ahead with changes to one area only. It is obvious that changes in one area will impact on other areas, and it is madness not to consider the issues across the county as a whole. Only by doing so can we ensure that we are coming up with the best approach overall.”

The Plaid group leader expressed his shock at some of the comments which had apparently been made by Government officials in Cardiff. “It was reported to the council,” said Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, “that if the council does not rush forward with its plans, we will slip behind in the queue for funding, and not receive any money for investment. I really cannot believe that the Assembly Government would determine its strategy for investment in education on the basis of who rushes to put the first plans in, and that the last to submit plans will receive nothing, regardless of need. That is a wholly unacceptable way of allocating funds.”

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Cllrs meet with traders

Lammas Street traders met with the four Plaid Cymru county councillors for Carmarthen Town to discuss the proposed changes to parking arrangements in Lammas Street. The meeting was organised by South Ward Cllr Arwel Lloyd as a result of the concerns expressed by traders about the Council's plans. After the meeting, Cllr Lloyd said, "The overwhelming message given to me by the traders is that the current arrangements are working well, there are no real problems, and therefore no need for change. The County Council's only reason for changing the current system seems to be an attempt to increase the council's income - they seem not to have taken into account the fact that, if even one business fails as a result of the introduction of charges for parking, the council will probably lose more in business rate income than it gains in parking income."

The County Council's proposals, passed by the Executive Board last year, include the introduction of charges for parking along Lammas Street. Currently, there is a limited waiting period, but no charge. The Council also proposes to move the taxi rank to use a part of the current bus bay. The plans had been scheduled for introduction on 1st January this year, but following campaigns by Plaid and others, the council's Executive Board agreed to defer the introduction for one year.

Cllr Lloyd added, "As things stand, the scheme has not been shelved, only delayed. Traders in Lammas Street have been having a bad time recently for a number of reasons, and the temporary reduction in parking in the town whilst redevelopment takes place has not helped. Coupled with the recession, many businesses feel that they are now operating on the financial margins, and that any changes which further reduce their income could mean the end for some of them. There is a serious danger that the changes proposed by the council will deter people from coming into Lammas Street at all, and that could spell disaster for some businesses.

"The council say that they are only proposing to charge 20p for parking initially, but I am concerned that this will be the thin end of the wedge. Once the principle is established, there is nothing to stop the council increasing the charges each year, so it is important that we resist the principle. I will continue to support the traders and work with them to put together a case asking the council's Executive Board to reconsider its decision. As one of the traders put it to us at the meeting - 'it isn't broken - so why are they trying to fix it?'"

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Disquiet over education re-organisation

Following their highly successful series of public consultation meetings on education in the Gwendraeth / Dinefwr area, Plaid Cymru report that there is a great deal of disquiet about the county council’s proposals for re-organisation. The party’s leader on Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said, “Our meetings were very well attended. There was enormous disquiet about the county council’s proposals, and only very limited support for them from a small number of people. The biggest single concerns were over the rushed timetable and the way in which the county council has chosen to consider only part of the county, rather than preparing a comprehensive plan.”

Rhodri Glyn Thomas, AM, who attended the meeting in Llangadog, said that he was concerned about the message being given out by the county council. “We heard from people who said that the county council had told them that they had no real choice about their proposals. The county council has apparently been claiming that they are only following instructions from the Assembly government. As an AM, I have spoken to the Education Minister about this, and I can categorically state that the claim is nonsense.

“Jane Hutt has made it very clear to me that neither she nor any of her department’s officials have given any instructions to the county council about the nature of any proposed changes. That is entirely – and quite properly – a matter for the county council itself to propose. I cannot understand why the county council seems so determined to mislead people in this way.”

Carmarthen East MP, Adam Price, also attended two of the meetings, and said this week, “I am delighted that the Plaid group on the county council are showing the way a proper consultation exercise should work. They had no preconceived ideas, no proposals to put to people; they simply went out and listened. They had a very warm response to that approach – people commented to me on how different Plaid’s approach was from that of the council. Education is one of the most important responsibilities of the county council, and it is vital that people’s views are properly taken into account from the outset. Preparing a limited range of options and asking people to choose amongst them is a long way short of a proper consultation.”

Having held the three meetings, in Cross Hands, Llangadog, and Ammanford, Plaid will now prepare their own submission on the options which could be pursued and seek to change the county’s approach accordingly. They will be doing so in co-ordination with Plaid Cymru’s new Education spokesperson in the Assembly, Nerys Evans AM, who is based in Carmarthen herself.

She has promised full co-operation to the councillors, and said this week, “I have questioned Jane Hutt on a number of occasions, and every time she tells me that the detail is entirely a matter for Carmarthenshire. There is nothing in the Assembly Government’s policies which forces any county council to close or merge schools – there are other options, and we shall be exploring them.”

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths concluded, “We have found this a very worthwhile exercise, and I think that local people felt the same. It is a model of consultation which we will be using again. We’re extremely grateful to all those who attended – there must have been over 300 in total – and will try and reflect all views in our alternative proposals.”