Rhodri Morgan says Cardiff Council has been pursuing a ‘Berman Doctrine’ straight from Fairyland in its schools reorganisation plans

September 28th, 2010

Cardiff City Council’s latest proposition to solve the urgent overcrowding problems at Ysgol Treganna Welsh-medium primary school doesn’t look like an urgent response to me. It can too easily be forgotten that this whole story began when the Labour-controlled South Glamorgan Council opened Ysgol Treganna in the mid 1980s. The Chair of Education was Labour Councillor Emyr Currie-Jones and another Labour Councillor Mark Drakeford was the Chair of Governors during the school’s first and formative years. Both were instrumental in bringing Ysgol Treganna into being.

Fast forward almost three decades and following years of overcrowding, and previous flawed proposals to reorganise schools, Councillor Berman, the Council Leader has got his front page story in the South Wales Echo, giving the superficial impression that he’s got a solution. However, he did admit that it would not bring about a solution to Treganna’s overcrowding in less than three years at best.

The minimum of three years delay is explained as follows. If the Council approves the Council leadership proposal, a period of consultation follows. If that goes well, the Council then includes the £9 million total cost, or the residual £6 million the Council says it has not yet found from its own resources, in its bid into the Welsh Government in the capital expenditure programme under the 21st Century schools programme. Cardiff Council already has a large number of bids in and has done well in getting bids approved recently, including the £38 million cost of the new St. Teilo’s Church in Wales Secondary School and upgrading the present St. Teilo’s into the new Welsh-medium secondary school for eastern Cardiff.

In interviews on BBC Radio Wales, Councillor Berman has not made it clear whether the Council is going to change the priorities in its capital programme to get the new Sanatorium Road Welsh primary for Canton higher up the order of priority, because that would take something else down the list. Approval in the capital programme will mean showing why the proposed new school is the best solution to the problem, given the urgency of the overcrowding at Treganna, the surplus places problem elsewhere in the city’s primary school system, and the difficulty the Council would have in finding the total cost from capital receipts.

While the Council Leader does seem to be accepting that the new school goes into the all-Wales capital programme competitive bidding system, taking its chances relative to all the other bids from Cardiff and all other 21 local authorities in Wales, he also seems to have invented a new doctrine. This doctrine states that the Welsh Government owes Cardiff a favour because of the First Minister’s decision to uphold the appeal by Lansdowne School against the Council’s proposal to close it down, to move Treganna into the vacated school. The Berman Doctrine is that there is an ‘onus’ on Carwyn Jones the First Minister to look favourably on an application for £6 million because the First Minister’s decision has frustrated the Council’s intentions. The Berman Doctrine comes straight from Fairyland and nowhere else.

What makes it worse is that the Council seems to want to continue to hold out the possibility of going for Judicial Review of the First Minister’s decision. This is just idle huffing and puffing and is hardly likely to increase the chances of raising the priority to be given to the missing £6 million. Councillor Berman still says they could ‘challenge the decision’. What the City Council must now do is to say whether it does intend to go for Judicial Review or whether it has abandoned that route. All Judicial Review applications must be made within 13 weeks and that deadline went by several weeks ago. It really is not fair on Lansdowne School to leave open this issue of a challenge in the Courts to the Carwyn Jones decision, when the teachers are trying to run a school.

Of course, in theory it is always possible to make a special application for permission to mount a challenge in the courts via Judicial Review at any time after the 13 weeks is up, but only if new information comes to light. If the City Council seriously thought it had a 50 per cent chance of success in a court challenge within the 13 weeks period after the Minister’s decision, that chance has now dropped to less than 1 per cent. If Councillor Berman thinks that saying even at this late hour that the City could mount a challenge in some way acts a threat to the Welsh Government to ‘come up with the £6 million or else’. That is rather infantile playground bully tactics and just will not work.

The demographics of inner city Cardiff are what have changed the ground rules for this whole school reorganisation issue. Five years ago, the demand for English-medium education was falling, the demand for Catholic education was falling. The demand for Church in Wales education was steady and the demand for Welsh-medium was rising. That broadly remains the picture in some outer suburbs now, but the rise in the birth rate in the inner city since 2001 after declining for ten years or more, is what has changed the picture. What is astonishing is that it was Labour politicians – AMs, MPs and Councillors – who had to point out these demographic changes to the Council and urge them to be taken into consideration in their calculations on the surplus places issue in inner city western Cardiff. How is it that these demographic changes were knowable, yet apparently unknown to the Council?

The nursery and infant departments of the inner city English-medium schools are now fit to burst. Severn and Kitchener to the east of Lansdowne and Radnor are classic examples of this. Lansdowne, despite being blighted by the closure threat is seeing a milder version of this resurgence. The Council waking up to demographic changes means that some of the heat has been taken out of the surplus places issue in inner city West Cardiff, even though the surplus places trough is still working its way through the secondary system and the whole of the Catholic education system in the city. The point is that surplus places hasn’t gone away as an issue. It has simply become more patchy. Gone in the inner city, still there in the outer city.

What should happen next? The proposal is for a new Welsh language school to replace Ysgol Treganna to be built on empty land on Sanitorium Road. Once again, it was Labour Councillors who identified the site, despite the fact that the land belongs to the Council. The site will have been there, clear as day, on the Council’s land register, which does make you wonder what other assets or capital receipts they have or haven’t got? It raises the question of how carefully and how imaginatively the set if existing land assets are being considered to turn them into capital receipts, and how much of the residual £6 million needed could be raised from them.

In its consideration of the proposal City Council scrutiny system should now go into overdrive, scoring it on:

1.     How quickly it solves Treganna’s overcrowding.

2.    What chances the City has of finding the other £6 million from capital receipts?

3.    What other school capital projects already submitted for Assembly funding would be lower in priority than the new school, if indeed there are any candidates for lower priority?

We also need to know what the Plans B and C the City Council have and how they score on the same three key tests. Then we can see whether this really is the only possible solution, albeit very slow. At that point, Cardiff could make a strong case out to the Welsh Government’s Capital Programme.

By then, we will know exactly what the cuts in the whole of the Welsh Government’s capital programme are going to be over the next three years following the UK Government Comprehensive Spending Review announcement on 20 October. All we know for sure is that it’s not going to be pretty.

The best estimates are for a 30 per cent cut in the capital spend available for all of Wales’ public services over the next three years. So the chances of slotting in an extra £6 million and getting approval will be getting more and more difficult, by 10 per cent each year from 2011 to 2014. It doesn’t mean no new schools, it just means the chances are going to be 30 per cent worse than they are now.

If there’s no other solution than the new school it stands a chance. However, the City Council better tell the Treganna parents what plan B is as soon as possible after 20 October.

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Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan is AM for Cardiff West.

9 Responses to:“Is there a Plan B for Treganna?”

  1. Ian says:

    If this is the best that Labour can come up with after years of blocking every attempt to expand WM education in the west of the city, then I’m disappointed. How curious that Rhodri neglected to mention that Labour actually opposed a proposal to build a new WM school 2 years ago, or that he is criticising the Council for previously sticking to WAG policy on school reorganisation-a policy formulated when he was First Minister.

    Even now when there appears to be a solution at long last for the parents and children of Treganna. he questions the viability of the plan-yet offers no other solution. This is a common theme with Labour. They have never proposed or supported a viable solution.

    No-one I know wanted to see Landsdowne close but the Council were forced to consider it as any other option without reducing places, contradicted the WAG policy and would consequently block any funding.

    Carwyn actually contradicted his own policy in order to meet a promise made by Rhodri to not close Landsdowne, creating a shockwave through every Education Dept in Wales.

    If Rhodri had been a little more honest abour Labour’s actions throughout this whole sorry saga instead of just calling the Council leader names, then he may have gained a little more respect. I always find it sad when a Welsh speaker and passionate a supporter of Welsh culture, is openly prepared to damage WM education for local party political gain.

    If he had spent a fraction of the time on solving the Treganna crisis as he has supporting the Ryder cup, then Labour would not be in this mess in the first place.

    (Report comment)

  2. Richard Cook says:

    Ian,

    Can you tell me please when Labour opposed the building of a new WM school? I don’t recall any proposals.

    (Report comment)

  3. Ramesh Patel says:

    Ian,

    Could you please make sure in future that you get your facts correct, it is very clear that you do not understand this complex issue.

    (Report comment)

  4. Ian says:

    They opposed an earlier proposal I believe was made in 2008 and they also opposed a new build EM school as an earlier effort to resolve this situation.
    The current plan is actually about plan d or e, the previous all being opposed by Labour. It’s funny how Rhodri did not mention this or mention tha fact that the officers had actually being following WAG policy that he was ultimately responsible for, as First Minister.

    I maybe mistaken, but I am not aware of Rhodri ever proposing a viable solution. I may well be wrong with this so would welcome clarity.

    (Report comment)

  5. Ian says:

    Ramesh,
    I understand very well what has gone on. There is nothing complex about how Labour has never offered a viable solution. I recognise the sensitivities about the proposal to close Landsdowne and like almost everyone else, would have preferred a solution that would not clash English Medium with Welsh Medium. However, the WAG policy effectively created that position by insisting that spare capacity was removed, before new places were created.

    I understand that the new WM idea was floated by Plaid before ever becoming an offical proposal in 2008, but Labour made it clear that it would not get their support. If this is not the case, then please confirm otherwise.
    As Rhodri is now suggesting that the latest proposal is unviable, I would very much welcome Labour’s alternative. I cannot see any other solution and would genuinely welcome any ideas. My concern is that Rhodri is not offering any, even though Labour claim to have been working ‘night and day’ to come up with one.

    With respect, I understand this issue more than many, although I will admit that some of the complexities have been created by legislation, that is not helping the Treganna situation.

    (Report comment)

  6. Ramesh Patel says:

    Ian,
    The objection was to build a new ONE form entry EM school. I repeat we never opposed a new build WM school this was never put on the table by the Plaid/Lib Dem administration.

    (Report comment)

  7. Ian says:

    Ramesh,
    What did Labour actually propose as a solution prior to now within the WAG policy and is the Cardiff West CLP fully behind the latest proposal?
    Rhodri’s comments have alarmed many parents.

    (Report comment)

  8. Ramesh Patel says:

    Ian,
    Could you please stick to the point and tell me when did we oppose a new built WM school, if you cannot answer this question the only conclusion I can come to is that you do not understand the issue.

    (Report comment)

  9. Richard Cook says:

    Just to nail this one on the head. I can confirm that there was never any proposal to build a new WM primary school, until this latest proposal.

    (Report comment)

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