THE next steps for regional education work are being discussed as councils across Wales reduce their involvement with the ERW consortium.

Earlier this year Neath Port-Talbot left the Education through Regional Working consortium with Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Swansea later serving their notice to leave next year.

At Thursday’s (October 1) schools and learning overview and scrutiny committee, Pembrokeshire councillors heard that the authority had decided it was not giving its notice as a “commitment to regional working.”

Cabinet member for education Cllr Guy Woodham added: “It’s a huge disappointment to me the way that ERW has ended up.”

The authority, director of education Steven Richards-Downes, was involved in discussion with the Minister for Education and Welsh Government officers about a new regional service from April 2021 and has agreed to work on a Swansea Bay footprint with Carmarthenshire, Swansea and Neath Port-Talbot.

This was questioned by members of the committee who felt neighbours Ceredigion and Powys faced issues more in line with those of Pembrokeshire than the more “urban” authorities.

Committee chairman Cllr John Davies said he was “not full of confidence that’s the right way to go.”

Mr Richards-Downes said the discussions would ensure the “best deal for the learners of Pembrokeshire” and there would be more opportunity to commission required services in the new system, including from authorities in other regional footprints.

The other options “disadvantaged” Pembrokeshire, Cllr Woodham said, with the changes being made by the Welsh Government.

Cllr Davies said of the new system: “It’s got to be focused, it’s got to be sharp, it’s got to be outcome-based. It’s got to be nearly everything ERW hasn’t been for the last few years.”

Pembrokeshire County Council made an annual contribution to ERW of around £40,000 the committee was told, but there were also “significant hidden costs” in staff and officer time, said Cllr Davies.

He agreed with Cllr Mike Stoddart’s view that this money would be better spent directly on schools and teaching, and any regional replacement must be “fit for purpose for our learners and practitioners on the work face.”

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