Tuesday 5 July 2011

Consultation - here's how it works in Carmarthenshire

2008  Camarthenshire County Council announces its "Tri-Level Reform" programme, part of which involves the merger of the two secondary schools in Llandovery and Llandeilo.

January-March 2009 The council conducts an "informal" consultation and receives almost 8,000 responses. The report which followed noted that there had been "strong representation" in favour of keeping a secondary school in Llandovery.

February 2010 Despite the strong opposition from parents, governors, residents and others in Llandovery, the council announces that it has chosen a site at Ffairfach just outside Llandeilo to build a new school. For children from Llandovery and the surrounding area, this will mean journey times of up to 3 hours a day.

April 2011 The council launches its formal public consultation, with a closing date of 17 June 2011.

May 2011 Councillors and council officials meet parents, governors and others as a part of the formal process. Some very stormy meetings take place, and the strength of feeling against the Ffairfach site is clear.

24 May 2011 The Carmarthen Journal quotes Cllr Gwynne Wooldridge, cabinet member responsible for education, as saying that "the consultation is going very well". He praises three local "Independent" councillors, including the councillor for Llandovery, Cllr Ivor Jackson, for their support. Robert Sully, Director of Education, says that "hearts and minds have been won". Cllr Jackson is interviewed in the same edition following his promotion to chair of the council with an additional £11,000 in allowances.

June 2011 Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM issue a statement expressing grave concerns about the way in which the Ffairfach site was chosen.

17 June 2011 The consultation ends. According to the formal consultation document (see page 28), the council will now analyse the responses and its Executive Board will meet in September 2011 to make a decision.

4 July 2011 the Executive Board of Carmarthenshire Council meets and approves the proposed merger and the Ffairfach site, although it notes that 91% of the responses received opposed the Ffairfach site.

In a bizarre footnote to the scandal over the closure of the primary school at Capel Iwan (remember the headlines about the "school with no pupils"?), the report considered by the Executive Board notes with satisfaction that consultation with the staff and parents of Capel Iwan school was completed and the school closed. Except, of course, that there were no pupils or parents because the school effectively closed a year ago, but because of bungling by the county council over the public consultation, it had to remain officially "open" for 12 months with staff on full-pay.

Caebrwyn, who has a child at Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn, has written passionately about the Pantycelyn story here. What makes particularly chilling reading is the scathing comments the council's report reserves for all those opposed to the plan.

Although our democracy is far from perfect, as can be seen by the way the council has bulldozed this decision through, we can at least be grateful that the county council cannot yet send its critics off to the gulag for "re-education", although judging from the comments its reports make, this is something Carmarthenshire County Council would clearly like to do.


Mr Sully responded to questions put by South Wales Press on the timing of the decision by saying that the statutory consultation document was incorrect because of a drafting error. Really? Presumably the cock-up over the closure of Capel Iwan school was another of his little clerical mistakes.

With only 16 calendar days between the end of the formal consultation and approval by the Executive Board, it is hard to believe that any serious consideration was given to the views of parents, staff and governors of Pantycelyn.

If the Welsh Assembly Government does not see this as reason enough to stop the council in its tracks, I am sure the courts will.

Update 7 July 2011

The council's website has been more than a little wobbly just lately, and the link to the original statutory consultation document suddenly stopped working. A Word version of the same document can be found on the council's website, although the timetable it sets out is, well, dramatically different. Of course, the document which counts is the version which went out to the public, so just in case it gets "lost" again, here is the revelant section:

The statutory process
Date Process
April 2011 Consultation document produced
May 2011 Consultation meetings with all stakeholders
June 17th, 2011 Closing date for receipt of observations on the proposals to be received by
Carmarthenshire County Council
July 2011 Analysis of responses to Formal Consultation document prepared for
Executive Board
September 2011
Executive Board decision whether to approve publishing a statutory
If approved: publication of statutory notice
If not approved : proposals end
October 2011
End of formal one month objection period.
If there are no objections, the Executive Board of Carmarthenshire County
Council will consider the proposal again and can decide to proceed with
the proposals.
October 2011
Final date for objections to be forwarded to the National Assembly, where
the proposal could be accepted, rejected or modified.
Decision by Welsh Assembly Government (if required)

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