Saturday 30 September 2017

Ysgol Dewi Sant - Dai Spart (Wales Section) Wades In

One of the intriguing aspects of the campaign currently being waged against relocating Ysgol Dewi Sant to Llanerch Fields in Llanelli is that it has been fought almost entirely through Facebook, with the mainstream media paying scant attention to it until recently.

Leaked e-mail correspondence from the small group running the campaign shows them complaining repeatedly that the local press was failing to bang the drum for them, but the flipside of that coin was that the campaigners were able to spread their one-sided message without challenge or scrutiny.

Fair play to Newyddion 9 on S4C for shining some light on this story a couple of weeks ago, and now also to the Llanelli Herald which led with it this week:

Campaigners will no doubt see this belated upsurge in interest and scrutiny as a conspiracy cooked up by Leanne Wood's black ops division.

The unsurprising truth is that the self-appointed campaign group does not have the unanimous support of the local community it claims for itself, and that the campaign itself has been built on distortion, disinformation and pandering to prejudice.

A key point is that the planned new school would bring significant benefits to the surrounding area, including a new village green, an improved football pitch, a multi-use games area for school and community use, a multi-purpose hall and studio for school and community use and a car park for school and community use. Understandably, this has been kept quiet as campaigners have set about collecting 'likes'.

The alternative is the retention of a large expanse of grass no longer used for organised sports because of its poor condition, and liberal amounts of dog mess for kiddies to roll in.

Rather less explicable is the failure of the council's bloated news and PR operations to do the job they are so richly resourced to do and ensure that the scheme is properly presented and promoted.

If Carmarthenshire County Council and Y Cneifiwr make for unlikely bedfellows, lined up on the opposite bench is an even more unholy alliance of NIMBYs, bigots, the far left, Cllr Rob James and Lee Waters AM, some of whom have very different agendas.

Dai Spart

A couple of days ago the Carmarthenshire branch of Unison issued a statement which takes the form of a letter addressed to the school's head, reproduced from Twitter below. 

The first thing to say about this is that local Unison members Cneifiwr has spoken to are exasperated that their branch secretary would once again rather fight high profile political battles than looking after the interests of the union's many low-paid members.

What on earth has Llanerch Fields got to do with Unison?

Even if Mark Evans were justified in writing a letter, it should have been addressed to the school's governors and not the head teacher, who is in no position to respond to what amounts to a vicious political and personal attack. The rant about cuts to school budgets is, of course, completely irrelevant to the Llanerch Fields issue, and should have been addressed to the council.

But perhaps he was taking his cue from Lee Waters AM who used the floor of the Senedd to launch an attack on the staff of Llangennech School whom he claimed had misled him and his family about plans to phase out that school's English stream - before the plan had been adopted by the council.

Both were grossly unfair to professionals who cannot answer back.

Next comes the accusation that the head is lying about the school losing the £9.1 million allocated under the 21st Century Schools programme.

The funding, which comes from both the county council and the Welsh government, is predicated on the school being built on part of Llanerch Fields, and comes with many strings attached, including consultations and exhaustive technical evaluations.

If the council were to turn around to the government at this very late stage and say that it had changed its mind, the funding would be withdrawn, as Mark Evans ought to know. You cannot just put the £9.1 million in a piggy bank and wait for a few years while an alternative site is found, tests carried out and detailed plans drawn up. Government and local government budgets do not work like that, and as he knows, schemes of this kind do not have a 'Plan B'.

The reality is that if the campaign succeeds, the children and staff of Ysgol Dewi Sant will face years more of cramped and unacceptable conditions.

As for the "targeting" of prominent individuals associated with the campaign, does Unison really want to align itself with people who describe parents of Ysgol Dewi Sant as brainwashed plebs, and the head of the board of governors as a "jumped up Welsh tosser"?

Next is the completely false claim that the new school would be built "over a sewage works". There is no sewage works on Llanerch Fields, but what are called attenuation tanks. This is how the council and Dŵr Cymru explained the function of the tanks to the campaign group:

In terms of DCWW [Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water, Ed.] apparatus on the site, it has been established that a number of attenuation tanks have been constructed under the recreational ground to the North of the site.

The tanks are used to relieve flooding in the area. During storm conditions, for instance periods of heavy rain, the tanks store diluted wastewater to control the flow of water in the pipes.  This helps to alleviate flooding in the area and prevent wastewater spillages. Once the flooding recedes the diluted wastewater gravitates back into the combined system.

Having protested that he and his branch are all in favour of a new school - just Not In My BackYard - the final paragraph gives the game away. True, the pupils of Ysgol Dewi Sant are drawn from a wide area, but Llanerch Fields is bang in the middle of the school's catchment area, and it includes children who live close to the site. 

Llanerch Fields is in the red zone
Just like the campaign group, Mark Evans is trying to portray Ysgol Dewi Sant, and by extension Welsh medium education, as something belonging to an alien, privileged elite being imposed on the area.  

And finally we come to the intriguing political aspects of this saga. 

Mark Evans is a prominent member of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, formerly Militant, which has been proscribed by the Labour Party's National Executive Committee, meaning that you may not be a member of the Labour Party if you are also a member of SPEW. 

Remember all the uproar coming from sections of the Labour Party about entryism before the general election? It's gone awfully quiet.

There was certainly no love lost between Evans and the Carmarthenshire Labour as it was under Kevin Madge, but times are a-changing, and Mark Evans, Cllr Rob James and "Our Rob's" Heather Peters are now all doing a pretty good impression of a happy threesome, with Lee Waters playing the part of gooseberry.

Spookily this pic appears on both the Carmarthenshire Unison and SPEW websites.

 Let's hope no one tells Carwyn.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Ysgol Dewi Sant - Plebs and jumped up Welsh tossers

Before launching into the next piece, apologies for the lack of posts in recent months. Work and family matters have meant that blogging has had to take a backseat, and that is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future.

That said, Y Cneifiwr is not about to throw the towel in yet, although the blog will not be updated as frequently as it used to be.


This blog chronicled the row about Llangennech School at some length. It was a particularly bitter and divisive issue, with the Llanelli Labour Party performing a 180 degree U-turn on its policies when in power, and adopting positions which were indistinguishable from UKIP as it exploited prejudice and ignorance to win votes.

Just as the battle in Llangennech was entering its final stages, many of the same Labour figures began teaming up with another campaign a few miles away to halt plans to relocate Ysgol Dewi Sant.

The campaign against Ysgol Dewi Sant is not ostensibly about Welsh-medium education, but as we shall see, some of the same figures have become involved and are using the same divisive tactics.

Apart from a couple of leaks which revealed collaboration between Llanelli Labour, UKIP and more extreme elements in Llangennech, almost everything which appeared in the blogs and the mainstream media was a matter of public record. Nia Griffiths was entirely invisible, even though the row in her constituency was making headlines far beyond Llanelli, and we were given only brief glimpses of the manoeuvres performed by Lee Waters. 

The interesting thing about the Ysgol Dewi Sant row is that we now have direct evidence of what senior Labour figures have been up to behind the scenes in Llanelli, and how those divisive, dog whistle tactics stand in stark contrast to the public message.

The leaked correspondence also provides a fascinating glimpse into the backstabbing and jostling going on within Labour in Llanelli.

Now read on.


News addicts who watch the main evening bulletins on S4C and BBC One Wales could be forgiven for thinking that Cymru and Wales are entirely different places, possibly even located in different parts of the solar system.

A couple of weeks ago, BBC One Wales led with a story about an unsolved murder case in Cardiff dating back to before the Second World War. 80 years after the event, descendants of the relatives of the little girl understandably welcomed the decision by South Wales Police to re-open investigations, but for the rest of us it was hard to see why this story should receive star billing.

There being no royal drivel to report, that evening's output treated us to a cursory round-up of lesser matters before telling us at some length that Sam Warburton was about to have an operation on his neck.

And that was it. "The news where you are" turned out to be largely devoid of news as usual.

Meanwhile Newyddion 9 on S4C (also produced by the BBC) led with an interesting piece on a row about the future of Ysgol Dewi Sant in Llanelli.

Ysgol Dewi Sant

In a nutshell, the Welsh-medium school with over 450 pupils is desperately in need of a new home, and parents and governors have been campaigning for a new school for a quarter of a century. The current ramshackle collection of jerry-built flat-roofed buildings and portacabins is bursting at the seams, with some children having to be taught in corridors. Badly leaking roofs, chronic over-crowding and dilapidation everywhere you look, with children housed in conditions which would upset the RSPCA.

The fact that this disgrace has been allowed to drag on for so long should have had Labour politicians and the unions mobilising support for the school years ago, but this is a Welsh-medium school, and Llanelli Labour has instead once again made itself some toxic new friends, and thrown its lot in with a campaign which threatens to wreck the plans for a new school.

The County Council's technical experts had examined nine potential sites for a new school, and recommended a large green open space called Llanerch Fields.

Finding a site large enough to accommodate a school of this size in an urban environment was never going to be easy, and there would have been objections no matter which site was chosen. In the case of Llanerch Fields, it is understandable that many local residents would oppose the loss of an open green space near their homes, but the fields are no longer used for organised sports, and these days their main function is as a gigantic doggy toilet.

Sure enough, the plan has attracted what the Newyddion 9 report described as "fierce" opposition, with the objectors' latest tack being to have the green open space designated as a "village green" to stop any school from being built on it. Unsurprisingly, the most vociferous campaigners live right opposite the site of the proposed new school.

For its part, the County Council has developed plans which would create close links between the school and the local community. These include:

Village green located 100metres north of proposed site.

Retention of U7/8’s football pitch for school and community use.

Proposed Multi-use games area for school and community use.

Proposed multi-purpose hall and studio for school and community use.

Proposed off site car park (approx. 75spaces) for school and community use.

Meanwhile, close by, the council is proposing enhancements to Penygaer School as part of the Ysgol Dewi Sant scheme, including:

Proposed flood lit all weather recreational facility for school and community use.

Refurbishment of multi-use hall for school and community use.

Proposed dry changing rooms for school and community use.

Proposed link to and from Penygaer playing fields to enhance / facilitate community use.

Retention and enhancement of existing car park.

As Nia Griffiths, Lee Waters and Labour's county councillors know, there comes a point of no return in the development of plans for new schools. Sites have to be analysed for suitability, including transport links, road safety, flood risk and the presence of contamination and the legacies of past industrial activity (an especially relevant factor in Llanelli). Detailed technical surveys will have to be carried out, and funding put in place. All sorts of hoops will have to be jumped through before the Welsh Government will sign off and hand over millions of pounds, and needless to say all of this takes a great deal of time.

Part of the process includes consultations with  the schools and their governors, parents and local residents, and logically enough the consultations have to take place after all of the groundwork has been done. By this stage, consultation really means trying to incorporate sensible suggestions made during the consultation, responding to concerns and mitigating possible problems, but in essence proceeding with the scheme that has been outlined.

A decision at this very late stage to scrap the plans would mean the loss of £9.1 million ear-marked for Ysgol Dewi Sant, the waste of all the resources ploughed into evaluating the site and developing detailed plans, and years and years of delay before a new school can be built on a different site - a site which would certainly also encounter opposition.

To campaign against the plans for Ysgol Dewi Sant means in practical terms that around 480 children and the school staff would be forced to stay put in cramped and squalid conditions for years to come, and despite their protestations and public utterances, that would be the logical outcome of the recklessly irresponsible tactics adopted by Nia Griffiths MP, Lee Waters AM and Labour councillors, most notably Rob James.

Llanerch Fields would be saved for dog lovers, and the staff and children of Ysgol Dewi Sant would have to hope that the school budget could stretch to buying a few more buckets to catch the rain water dripping from classroom ceilings.

The Newyddion 9 report (no longer available online) interviewed the school's head and two governors, Aled Owen and Garry Nicholas. Garry Nicholas pointed out that the school had been waiting to be re-housed for many years, and he called on politicians to show their support for the school and Welsh-medium education.

Unfortunately for the school, Llanelli Labour is doing precisely the opposite.

Let's look at some of the key players in more detail.

Lee Waters AM 

We'll start with Lee Waters and Nia Griffiths because as experienced and intelligent politicians, they have no excuse for not understanding the consequences of their actions.

In Llangennech, Waters' public stance was initially to sit on the fence as the firebrands went to work, before lobbing in a few incendiaries of his own and encouraging the pyromaniacs. True to form, he retired slightly singed, mounted his pulpit to blame everyone else but himself and deplored the damage that fire can do. That, in Waters' book, constitutes "leadership".

When Labour Party members were actively conspiring with UKIP, Waters urged them to be careful instead of telling them to stop. Unsurprisingly, Michaela Beddows and her friends saw that as a green light.

Besides UKIP, there is evidence that Jacques Protic also became involved in the Llangennech row. Protic is the author of the extremist Glasnost website which has this to say about the part played by Lee Waters and Nia Griffiths in Llangennech:

Through my contact with Lee Waters and from what I learned by reading various statements he made on his blog and in the social media Lee and Nia chose to use a low-key approach working behind the scenes but generally supportive of the parents’ stance which unfortunately got them nowhere – The Council wasn’t going to budge no matter what!

According to Protic, then, he was in contact with Lee Waters as the row escalated.

As he tells us in this tweet, he is a lifelong member of the UK Labour Party:

According to Protic, "Welsh" Labour (which as he ought to know has no separate legal existence from UK Labour) is working for a Welsh-speaking republic. Here is another of his cries for help to any comrades prepared to listen:

Protic has many bees in his bonnet, but his main obsessions are the evils of the Welsh language and Islam. When he is not warning of the dangers of ethnic cleansing in Wales and compulsory cerdd dant, he is busy spreading fake news about the Muslim menace.

Did you know that huge swathes of Denmark are no-go areas for the Danish police because of Islamic extremists? No? Neither do the Danes.

Interestingly for a lifelong member of the Labour Party, Protic is also a keen supporter of Anne Marie Waters (probably no relation) who is hoping to become the next leader of UKIP. Even some of UKIP's most prominent loonytunes are scared by that prospect.

That was Llangennech, and so far at least there is no sign of Protic on Llanerch Fields. But it's probably just a matter of time, and in the absence of Protic, Michaela Beddows and friends, Lee Waters has been busy forging new relationships.

Like Jacques, Lee seems to be fond of conspiracy theories. While everyone else seems to have known that the council was going to propose building a new school on Llanerch Fields, Lee Waters saw a sinister secret plot:

A few weeks after this shock horror revelation, Lee Waters was writing to the chair of the campaign group, one Mrs Heather Peters (pictured uncharacteristically hogging the microphone) to discuss tactics. More about Mrs Peters later, but suffice to say that she and Michaela Beddows would find that they have quite a lot in common.

Lee has a great idea:

Perhaps we can organise a mass gathering on the field on a Saturday morning for a photo to underline public support for keeping the space?

That would be a mass gathering in support of stopping the plans for the school from going ahead on Llanerch Fields.

Nia Griffiths MP

Publicly, Nia Griffiths maintained complete radio silence on the Llangennech issue, although it is hard to believe that she was not involved behind the scenes, as Protic hints on his website.

In private, Nia Griffiths had nothing but praise for the Llanerch objectors. Here she is discussing tactics ahead of a consultation meeting in a leaked e-mail:

You have done magnificent work on the committee in gathering information, and I would suggest that we will get more useful information from this if we take the same approach, and think carefully about the questions we want to ask beforehand.        

Probably the officers who will be sent along are unlikely to be the people who finally have the say (who will be their superiors) and we will get more out of getting info from them this way, than if people “have a go” at them.

In public, the MP was rather more cautious. Addressing a public meeting back in October 2016, she said:

“It is very clearly a decision which will be made by Carmarthenshire County Council and therefore people need to speak directly to those decision makers. There are a number of issues to be looked at but the only people who can actually change a decision or make a decision on this are the County Councillors in power and in particular, of course, the Executive Board members.”
Slightly more decorous than Lee Waters, but while both protest publicly that they are in favour of a new school for Ysgol Dewi Sant, both have been working behind the scenes to wreck the plans.

Cllr Rob James

Nia Griffiths and Lee Waters are both on the centre right of the Labour Party, and their involvement in this campaign probably has as much to do with internal party wrangling as it does with saving Llanerch Fields for dog walkers as they contemplate future selection battles.

Cue Cllr Rob James (Lab.) who until this year's council elections in May was, nominally at least, serving as a county councillor down the M4 in Neath with an address in the town.

Despite his postal address in Neath, James moved to Llanelli a couple of years ago and threw himself into getting a front seat in the Llanelli Labour Party.

James has previously claimed to be a centrist, but now appears to be firmly in the Momentum camp with ambitions way beyond his abilities.

He became involved with the Llanerch Fields campaign group early on, while still an ordinary rank and file member of the Labour Party and nurturing plans to oust Bill Thomas as county councillor for Lliedi ward.

Bill Thomas was everything that Rob James is not. He was broadly sympathetic to the campaigners' desire to keep Llanerch Fields as they are, and dutifully went about helping them gather detailed, technical information, even though he was probably aware that the people he was helping were plotting against him.

One of the issues the campaign group had hoped would deal a killer blow to the school plans was the presence on the fields of some underground water tanks managed by Dŵr Cymru. The tanks represented a serious health and safety hazard, the objectors claimed.

Bill Thomas did his homework and wrote to the group informing them that, "As the Councillor for the area I have never had any complaint or photographic evidence of spills until now, neither do I have any evidence that these spills contain anything. If they do then it is an issue that needs attention from Welsh Water."

Cllr Thomas, as he then was, went on to call for a full insurance and risk assessment of the site before it was cleared for development. And that is what the County Council did, to howls of protest from the campaign group who were angry that money should have been spent on making sure the site was suitable for the new school.

Bill Thomas's careful regard for evidence and honesty did not go down well with the campaigners who launched a veritable onslaught of lobbying and correspondence giving the impression that all those poor little children would spend their days wading through sewage. They also made something of a name for themselves with their often very aggressive and hectoring behaviour in public meetings.

To the campaigners' delight, Bill Thomas lost his selection battle against newcomer Rob James in October 2016, with Heather Peters, the chair of the campaign group, telling her troops:

Guess where Our Rob was tonight?  Beating Bill Thomas out of his seat on the labour Lliedi seat for LLANELLI!!!!!!!

WELL DONE ROB we are all behind you !  

 Despite his lack of local roots and inability to speak Welsh, "Our Rob" had no hesitation about giving an interview in English to Newyddion 9 a couple of weeks back.

Would you buy a second-hand car from this man?

He supported residents who wanted to keep the green space as it is, he said. "Even if that means scuppering the plans for the new school?" he was asked.

"I don't think that is connected in any way", said Cllr James in a breathtaking display of post-factual politics, dismissing the notion that blocking plans for a new school would, um, block plans for a new school. 

"Our Rob's" performance duly received ecstatic reviews on the campaign group's Facebook page, with Mike Bassett, aka Red Mick, one of the CUSC trolls (no prizes for guessing that they would be involved) commenting "Next Leader of the Carmarthenshire Labour Group. Sooner the better".

Lee Waters must be having nightmares.

Heather Peters

The campaign against the relocation of Ysgol Dewi Sant is led by a small group of very vocal self-appointed activists calling themselves "Save Llanerch and Penygaer Recreational Fields". Most prominent among them is Mrs Heather Peters who just happens to live opposite the site of the proposed new school.

Mrs P and her deputy, Sharon Burdess, can be heard taking part in a lengthy "interview" with LlanelliOnline here, although strangely neither of them is identified by name as they respond to Alan Evans' interesting interview technique, which boils down to delivering a monologue with brief pauses to allow his guests to agree with him.

E-mail correspondence also shows that Alan was active in the campaign, dishing out advice on tactics and questions to ask of the County Council.

Let's be generous and call this campaigning journalism, although Alan Evans' collaboration with Heather Peters and Co again raises awkward questions about the objectivity of LlanelliOnline.

Heather Peters is, of course, entitled to campaign to keep the large expanse of grass outside her home, although the e-mail files show that a good number of her e-mails and some of the accompanying documents emanated from the IT network belonging to Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.

She certainly does not mince her words.

Responding to one of La Peters' missives, the chair of the school's board of governors, Garry Nicholas, pointed out to her that if the threat to health of developing a school on Llanerch Fields was as great as she claimed, why had nothing ever been done about it in all the years that it had allegedly been going on? Indeed, if the site was as dangerous as she suggested, why did her campaign group want to keep it for children to play on?

Warming to his theme, Garry Nicholas pointedly noted, "No mention has been made either of the dog foul that litters Llanerch fields. Doesn’t this contribute to the contamination and health risks that are referred to? Do the campaigners want to keep Llanerch fields for the convenience of dog owners only?"

Mr Nicholas's polite refusal to be bamboozled provoked howls of outrage, with Mrs P launching a new campaign to have him removed from the board of governors, or failing that, to be given a severe dressing down.

Writing to her fellow campaigners, Mrs P asks, 

Do you all agree that this arrogant jumped up Welsh tosser deserves to be pulled over the coles (sic)?

Mr Nicholas was not the only dissenter to cross her path.When a parent voiced his doubts about the validity of the campaign on Facebook, Mrs P was once again livid. It was time to re-double efforts on the group's Facebook page to counteract this sort of rank insolence:

From the comments from the pleb on Facebook we really need to start banging the drum, these parents have been brainwashed, well the few who were actually given a brain to start with.

That put the parents of Ysgol Dewi Sant in their place, but it must leave Unison wondering whether it is comfortable about lending its whole-hearted support to a campaign which dismisses working families in Llanelli as brain-washed plebs.

Taking Lee Waters' advice that "it is important that we take multiple lines of challenge", i.e. throw the kitchen sink at the campaign in the hope that at least something might stick, one member of the campaign group who is understood to work in the county council's social services department hit on what they agreed was another fundamental weakness of the school plan - Ysgol Dewi Sant did not have enough children receiving free school meals:

I know for a fact Dewi Sant pupils didn't meet the Communities First criteria. The development officers have been told not to get involved in the Llanerch fiasco as its too political but I will chase up one or two other people today who may be able to get us this info.

At least it could be another piece of ammunition to fire?!
So it would seem that the parents and children of Ysgol Dewi Sant are both brain-washed plebs and a middle class plot to gentrify one of the more deprived areas of Llanelli.

We now have to wait to find out the fate of the village green application, and the fate of Ysgol Dewi Sant and its children. More updates in due course.


Much of the material for this piece was taken from voluminous e-mail correspondence with a very large distribution. As is the way with e-mails, some of it fell off the back of a passing lorry as Cneifiwr was sauntering down the road.