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Powys County Council criticised for holding school closure consultation during pandemic

A COUNCILLOR who was a member of the Cabinet just a few weeks ago has spoken out against school closure proposals.

At the beginning of November, tributes were paid to Cllr James Evans who left the Independent/Conservative Cabinet, to start work as a policy advisor for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

Later that month, Cllr Evans was unveiled as the Conservative Senedd Candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire in the forthcoming Senedd election.

At the Powys County Council cabinet meeting on Tuesday, February 9, he spoke against the proposals to start the statutory process to close both Llanbedr Church in Wales Primary School and Llanfihangel Rhydithon Primary School, which are in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency,

Cllr Evans (Gwernyfed), said: “I do think the timing of this decision is very questionable, people’s focus is on the Covid-19 pandemic and keeping their loved ones safe, to put more pressure on communities does worry me greatly.

“I’m concerned that the consultation for these schools will not be a full and robust process, there will be many people in the communities who will have poor internet connectivity or no access whatsoever.

This meant, explained Cllr Evans , that they wouldn’t be able to take part in online meetings or consultations.

“Doing this consultation during this time is a mistake, I would urge cabinet to pause and think again about these proposals, ” said Cllr Evans.

He wanted to see the decision deferred until people could take part in a full and active consultation.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat and Green group at Powys County Council, Cllr James Gibson-Watt  also spoke on the school closures in a strategic context.

Cllr Gibson-Watt (Glasbury) said: “The disappointing thing for me, is that it’s bad to the bad old days, picking on individual schools without doing a strategic review of the catchment areas they sit.

“We have four schools from widely different parts of the county and the only reason why they are before you is because they are small.

“I just think this is too piecemeal and not the strategic approach were were hoping to see.”

Education consultant, Geraint Rees explained: “Covid clearly poses some challenges, but consultations nationally have been proceeding.”

Mr Rees said that they were “mindful” of engaging with staff, families and children, and would make sure that people that are excluded digital have other methods of contributing to a consultation.

He also said that any changes to Welsh Government guidance for consulting during the pandemic would be “built in” to any consultation.

Mr Rees said: “We can’t be certain how long this will continue and it’s not inconceivable that we have another year and a half of challenge around Covid.”

The decision to close the schools, at Castle Caerenion, Churchstoke, Llanfihangel Rhydithon and Llanbedr will now follow a legal process.

Once the notices are published a 28-day period starts when people can  submit written objections.

Then, a report summarising the objections and the Council’s response to them will be written.

A further report would go in front of the Cabinet, where councillors would decide to go to the next stage of the closure process, or not.

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