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Carmarthenshire school closure plans put on hold… for now

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Proposals to close primary schools in Mynyddygarreg and Blaenau have been put on hold pending the outcome of an extended review of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Modernising Education Programme.

Cllr Glynog Davies, Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services, has asked his education team to enhance a review of the programme which is currently underway to ensure it continues to meet the needs of children and communities.

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It means proposals due to be agreed today (Monday 6 December 2021), will not proceed at this time.

The extended review will seek to ensure that the MEP can adapt to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and climate change, which has changed the way people are living and making choices, how the education system has been affected and the rising costs of construction.

Cllr Davies said the review should look at how parents’ choices for their children’s education might change following the last 20 months.

The council has already noticed a shift in parental choice following the most recent annual admission of pupils during the pandemic.

With the construction industry having been hugely affected by the pandemic, with increased demand and rising costs for labour and materials, Cllr Davies said it is important to look at the knock-on effect this could have on the delivery and budgeting for school regeneration projects.

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“We want to be able to factor these considerations in as we review the MEP, to have the time to properly consider how society is changing and how this will affect education services,” he said.

“Across the authority, several other departmental reviews are also underway. It would be prudent to ensure the MEP continues to align with the council’s priorities and objectives, and therefore it makes sense to take the outcome of these reviews into consideration also.

“I am asking officers to do this piece of work for me urgently.”

Speaking to fellow Cabinet members he said: “I hope that you will agree that no decision can be made today without this work taking place. I am asking that Cabinet does not push ahead with proposals for Ysgol Mynyddygarreg and Ysgol Blaenau at this point in time, and I will not be announcing the statutory notice for these schools – we have to give full consideration to these proposals.”

A campaign group set up to prevent the closure of Ysgol Mynyddygarreg said in a statement: “The Community and Governors of Mynyddygarreg are overjoyed with Carmarthenshire Council’s decision not to close Ysgol Mynyddygarreg. The community is passionate about our village and our school.

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“After campaigning for more than a year we are pleased that the Cabinet has listened to our voices and given us certainty for our future, showing the way for councils and communities to work together for better outcomes.

“We are also very supportive of Ysgol Gwenllian and hope that their badly needed new school will be imminent. Looking to the future, the school can now build on its excellent teaching reputation and we look forward to an exciting future for the children, staff and the wider community.”

A petition opposed to the school closure attracted over 1000 signatures.

There are concerns however that the council could restart closure plans after the local authority elections in May.

Leader of the Labour group on Carmarthenshire Council, Cllr Rob James said: “Fantastic result for both Ysgol Blaenau and Ysgol Mynyddygarreg. Great work by both campaigns to ensure the school are not closed this academic year.

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“We are concerned that the Cabinet will now review the viability of all schools after the local elections. We need to stop the sword of Damocles over schools and worrying pupils and parents over potential closures.

“There are 30 schools with less than 100 pupils in Carmarthenshire, so if you want to ensure that your school is not closed after the elections, consider being a Councillor.”

Whilst the Plaid-led Cabinet agreed to postpone the closures, Cllr Glynog Davies confirmed the council’s commitment to continuing the delivery of a number of projects already in development.

These include a new state of the art specialist school to replace Ysgol Heol Goffa, a new primary school to replace Ysgol Pen-bre, and planned improvements at Ysgol Bryngwyn in Llanelli and Ysgol Bro Myrddin in Carmarthen.

He said the council will also prioritise plans for a new school to replace Llanelli’s Ysgol Dewi Sant and for new primary schools in Ammanford and Llandeilo.

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(Lead image: Mynyddygarreg SOS)

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Carmarthenshire

Carmarthenshire proposes 4.4% council tax increase

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Carmarthenshire Council have announced a proposed 4.4% increase in council tax, around £1.15 a week more for the average Band D property.

Despite the proposed increase, the Council must still find and deliver £11.7million of savings over the next three years.

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Council Tax raises around £105million a year and contributes to around a quarter of the total annual budget.

Councillors must also find a way to manage the increasing demand for certain services, such as social care, and inflationary pressures – including the rising cost of energy bills and increasing costs of paying the foundation living wage – as well as delivering day to day services and schemes that will benefit and grow the county’s economy.

The council say they continue to feel the impact and uncertainty from the Covid-19 pandemic, with increasing pressure on several service areas and the prospect of Welsh Government’s hardship funding coming to an end.

Cllr David Jenkins, Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “Unfortunately Welsh Government’s funding to councils has not kept pace with rising costs and increasing demands for our services, which is creating a budget shortfall every year.

“The settlement figure we’ve recently received appears healthy on the face of it, but with the Covid-19 hardship fund expected to come to an end, the settlement will have to contribute to the extra costs that we continue to face as we respond to the pandemic.

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“We also face rising inflationary costs at the same time as increased demand on our services.

“We will continue to do the best we possibly can, identifying savings proposals that will have minimal impact on frontline services, but difficult decisions will need to be made.

“We truly appreciate the financial hardship that people are facing, and now more than ever we encourage people to get involved in our budget setting process.

“The more people that respond the better as we will have more feedback on which to base our decisions.”

The council’s budget consultation has now opened allowing people to view the proposed draft budget and have their say.

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Councillors will consider the views expressed in the consultation when the budget is finally approved by Full Council in March.

People can share their views online at www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/consultations or by emailing consultation@carmarthenshire.gov.uk.

(Lead image: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

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Ammanford

£500,000 for the love of Franks’ Gelateria

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It was in 1922 that Francesco Dallavalle first started selling his ice cream around the Amman Valley on a horse and cart.

The Italian art of making ice cream has since been passed through the generations with grandsons Renaldo and Giulio Dallavalle, Directors of award-winning Frank’s Ice Cream, having now opened a new gelateria and innovation centre alongside the company’s existing manufacturing site in Capel Hendre.

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Funded by a £500,000 loan from the Development Bank of Wales, the new purpose-built facility houses the latest in ice cream making machinery and technology. Built by lead contractors Malpross Services of Cross Hands, the 4,300 square foot building features a product development centre and an ice cream parlour specialising in artisan gelato and semifreddo deserts that will be open to the public along with an open viewing and tasting area. Interactive classes will be available in a bespoke visitor room that will also host school visits.

Up to 12 new jobs are expected to be created in the new facility, which includes a short-run manufacturing unit that will improve efficiency by enabling the creation of specific one-off flavours and occasion ice creams.

Having been awarded their first major supermarket contract in 1990, Franks Ice Cream opened their first manufacturing site in Capel Hendre in 1993. The company went on to launch a diabetic range of ice cream with Morrisons before investing £1.5 million to increase production capacity and then beginning to export to the Middle East in 2019. They now supply dairy ice cream, vegan ice cream and ice cream for diabetics to a range of UK supermarkets and global brands.

Director Giulio Dallavalle said: “Our story is almost 100 years old. Since the early 20th century, my family has worked hard to grow our business with the same passion and integrity we use to create our award-winning ice cream.

“Our love of great-tasting, high quality, ice cream desserts is now shared by customers throughout the world. Our new innovation centre will allow us to stay ahead of the competition with rapid product developments as well as giving our loyal customers a place to enjoy our ice cream here in the community.

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“The funding from the Development Bank has helped us to begin the next chapter of our story; creating jobs and further enhancing our offering in this highly competitive market. We couldn’t have asked for better support which is why we now very much consider them as part of our Frank’s family.”

Giulio Sallavelle, Director Frank’s Ice Cream, Alun Thomas, Development Bank of Wales

Alun Thomas of the Development Bank of Wales said: “Franks’ is a long-established manufacturing business. This latest development enables the family to go back to their roots and sell ice cream direct to the public while also showcasing the very best innovation in the Welsh food sector. They’re a lovely family with a great business making the very best Italian ice cream. We wish them every success with their latest venture.”

Funding for Frank’s Ice Cream came from the £204 million Wales Business Fund. Financed by the European Regional Development Fund, the Welsh Government and the Development Bank of Wales, the fund offers loans, mezzanine finance and equity investments from £50,000 to £2 million for small and medium-sized businesses (those with fewer than 250 employees) based in Wales, or willing to relocate to Wales. Terms range from one to seven years with finance prioritised for businesses in economically deprived areas of Wales.

Lead image: Giulio Sallavelle, Director Frank’s Ice Cream, Alun Thomas, Development Bank of Wales 

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Carmarthenshire

Work starts on new £8.25m primary school for Pembrey

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Work has started on building a new £8.25million primary school for Pembrey.

The new school building is being constructed on the recreation ground/playing field immediately adjacent to the existing school site on Ashburnham Road.

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It will provide high-quality teaching facilities to improve the overall learning experience for learners, as well as benefitting the local community.

The new school will have capacity for 270 primary pupils, 30 nursery pupils and will incorporate a Flying Start facility which is currently located in a mobile classroom on the current school site.

Headteacher Helen Jacob said: “We are looking forward to having our brand-new school building at Pembrey where we can continue to provide quality educational opportunities and experiences for our children.

“Everyone is excited at the prospect of learning in a modern purpose-built school that will be at the heart of the community.”

The project is part of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Modernising Education Programme which aims to give every child in the county access to first class accommodation and facilities.

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It is being jointly funded by Welsh Government through its 21st Century Schools initiative.

The new school building has been designed by the council’s own architects and the work is being carried out by local contractor TRJ Ltd.

The estimated completion date is the autumn term of 2023.

Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “I am delighted that building work has started on the new school for the community of Pembrey. Building it on the adjacent recreation ground means that we can reduce disruption as much as possible.

“The council is committed to investing in our children’s futures, and the new school building will provide the very best educational facilities for both pupils and staff and accommodation fit for 21st century teaching and learning.”

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Local member Cllr Hugh Shepardson said: “I am delighted that we are making a start on the new Pembrey Primary School. The facility, which I understand will be completed next year, will provide state-of-the-art teaching facilities for our children at Pembrey and will allow our children to be taught in a modern and welcoming environment.

“I am grateful to the Education department’s Modernising Education Programme team and the authority’s Cabinet for their diligence and hard work in making the completion of the new school a reality.”

To date, the Modernising Education Programme has invested more than £300million in Carmarthenshire schools, including the building of 12 new primary schools, two new secondary schools, and 48 major refurbishments and extensions.

(Lead image: Carmarthenshire Council)

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