Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ongoing Pyrotechnics in Powys

The manufacturer's advice when handling fireworks is to light the blue touch paper and retreat to a safe distance. That's just what I did last Monday afternoon, though not by design. I made public a hugely incendiary 'document for consultation' supposedly concerning the 'modernisation' of secondary education in Powys. It had been prepared within the Council, without the knowledge of the councillors. I then took myself and Mrs D off on a planned break to Tenerife for four days. Just my luck. Biggest story to hit the streets of Montgomeryshire for decades, and when the media were gagging for interviews, I was playing golf in 25 degrees off the coast of North Africa.

Anyway, we're back today. Let's recap and reflect on what's happened. I was given the document (by two people, seperately) last Friday. Grasped its explosiveness over the weekend. After some angst, decided to release it on Monday - so that the people (and the councillors) know what's going on. I also wrote to headteachers and to Town and Community Councils. Finally, I asked my office to arrange public meetings in the towns where it was envisaged that the High Schools could close. These meetings have been arranged for Monday 25th in Llanfyllin, Wednesday 27th in Llanfair Caereinion, and Wednesday 3rd of Feb. in Llanidloes. Another meeting has been held in Newtown, which was nothing to do with me.

I'm told that when the first reports were published on Tuesday, I was being accused of being 'sensationalist' - apparently there's "nothing to worry about". The person who said that either hadn't read the document or is clueless about what concerns Montgomeryshire people. But as far as I know, only one individual took this line. Now I'm told that Powys Councillor Les Davies is demanding that there be a witch hunt to uncover the 'leaker'. Honestly. Its on BBC Online. Mind you, Powys Councillors have some form here. A few years ago the Council spent several thousand trying to uncover another whistle blower who did the public a service by informing us of a scandalous failure to make vital CRB checks. Some suspected I was involved then.

Two other points worth making. Late Monday night, Chief Executive, Jeremy Patterson decided to make the document public (for which he should be applauded). We will now have a proper public debate about this mighty issue - before the whole thing has been stitched up behind closed doors, and we are presented with a fait accompli. The Councillors might even be given a say!! And secondly, an amazing debate has emerged on facebook, where over two thousand people have joined in. Its absolutely phenomenal. Convinced me that facebook really matters. Joanne Morgan administers it all in an independent and engaging way. For what it's worth, I think there should be a fifth 'model' added to the document, which involved abolition of the Local Education Authority, and transfer of management directly to schools. Radical I know. But no more so than just shutting down three genuine centres of educational excellence. And I've only been home a few hours. Even though the golf was fantastic, this issue has made the break seem an age ago already.


JB said...


Option 5 is the only one that makes sense. As you know I wrote to the press immediately this was released questioning the money spent on LEAs not only in Powys but throughout Wales. It was not published - no surprise there - with Lib Dems only expressing 'surprise', it wouldn't be.

I understand that of an education budget of c.£100m only £65m arrives at the school gates,a further £10m is spent on transport and £25m on the LEA itself. That 35% is spent this way is shocking enough but that percentage itself has grown - at the begining of this decade, as far as I can tell from info available on the web, the figure was just 20%.

To even consider a set of options with such far reaching consequences without even a glance at the admin costs is grossly irresponsible. The persons concerned should be named and held to account.

Well done for your approach. Others should learn their lessons fast.

Anonymous said...

How on earth can the MP for Hello justify his emergency meeting on this? Surely he must have known what was goin on, given the make-up of the Council? If not, just how much communication is there amongst the Lib Dums? It makes you wonder!

Glyn Davies said...

JB - Abolishing the LEA would be a very radical change, and I'm not sure how an alternative management structure would operate - probably at a High School catchment area level. But it seems to me that its an option worth serious examination. I would expect it to have great appeal to the public.

anon - I thought holding the public meeting was fine - though I was disappointed that I had not returned from holiday and so could not go myself. I have no idea what the MP would have known beforehand, but I would have expected an MP to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the Council leadership on all major issues. I would have expected him to have known that the Council was facing great difficulties in delivering secondary education. We know its been an issue under discussion for years, and we know there was an all day seminar for councillors on the subject a few weeks ago. I'd like to have gone myself, but was not allowed to attend. Even though I had been expecting radical proposals, I had no idea that anything quite so radical was being considered. I don't think any of the councillors did either.

Anonymous said...

Maybe said Mp was too busy cruising to maintain an ongoing dialogue.....

Anonymous said...

It does make me laugh when the LibDems get their collective knickers in a twist when it’s their own councillors – in an alliance with the PIG councillors - who run Powys County Council now. Is it another case with the LibDems of the left hand and right hand not talking to one another, again?

Paul said...

Anon 2&4, read Glyn's post:

"It had been prepared within the Council, without the knowledge of the councillors."

It had been preapred WITHOUT cllrs knowledge. This is either another example of an officer led Powys Council or a genuine report drawn up by officers for the council to look at

Richie said...

"It had been prepared within the Council, without the knowledge of the councillors."

Glyn & Anon, If the Councillors didn't know about it how on earth would Lembit know?

The people that read this blog really do make me laugh sometimes - why is it that this has to boil down to a party politics everytime?

Glyn, Its up to you, LO, Councillors and the people of Powys to work together to make sure this doesnt happen. Comments made by Roman Jones and others aren't helpful.

Glyn Davies said...

Paul - this is a case of a consultation document being drawn up by a working party of officers and I believe four headteachers. It would have been presented to councillors in due course, and would have been made public at that time. It was sent to me, and I released it to several others without realising it was confidential. However, I do think its rigt that the public should have an input before it becomes a 'fait accompli' because it is so important.

Ritchie. I publish all comments, even those which criticise me - except those which are designed to injure innocent people, or are libellous. Perhaps you'll let me know where I've said that I would have expected the MP to know about this report. I would have expected an MP to know that there is a serious discussion underway about secondary education, but not detail about what's proposed.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why everyone's so worried. It's a least worst case scenario - give several options, some totally unacceptable, one or two grudginly acceptable. People will be relieved to have the least bad option. Had the Council only made the single suggestion of merging 6th forms into a couple of sites, a huge fuss would have ensued. As it stands, people are now happy to accept that if it means saving the High Schools!

I must admit, though, that I can't resist a bit of PIG/LibDem bashing, its so fun and so easy.

Glyn Davies said...

Roman - No-one at Llanfyllin last night thought that the idea of establishing a sixth form college at Coleg Powys was in any way acceptable.

NOTE - Yet again I've rejected comments about our MP. Its fair enough to critiise him on this blog for actions and decisions he makes in his public life, and its just the same about me - but I just don't want to have derogatory comments about his private life on my blog.