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.”

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