RCT Council refuses to confirm officer DSA opinion

Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council has refused to confirm whether it supports the opinion of one of its officers that Disabled Students Allowance should be restricted to 6 years of study.

Steve Evans, a senior official in Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council’s student support department is alleged to have made the following statement:

“There is no mention in the (student support) regs of guidance regarding previous study limits for post grad students. Basically they can apply for a new course as many times as they like and can receive up to £10,520 per annum. I raised this matter with the Welsh Government […] to try to get some sort of limit included in the regs, e.g. up to max of 6 years support or something similar but they were not interested and it has never been addressed since.”

Asked whether this alleged statement by Steve Evans reflected Council policy, a spokesperson from the Corporate Governance Team at Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council said: “Your request appears to call for the Council’s opinion,” adding that RCT Council did not hold that information in any “recorded form.

Youth environmental project to come to Llantrisant

An innovative environmental project is set to expand its reach to Llantrisant, it has been revealed.

The Emotivate Project is set to expand its reach from Llantwit Fardre into Llantrisant in Wales as part of ambitious plans to link young people the two areas with other youths in Cam and Dursley in England.

These young people helped design and paint the murals displayed at the St Dyfrig's Underpass in Treforest.
YOUNG AT ART: These young people helped design and paint the murals displayed at the St Dyfrig’s Underpass in Treforest. Courtesy: Jonathan Bishop Limited.

The Emotivate Project was highly commended by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council in 2014. It was the brainchild of Councillor Jonathan Bishop, who is also seeking election to Llantrisant Town in Wales and is already the parish councillor for Lower Cam in England, hoping to combine the two roles. “I hope that by being the local councillor for both communities I can make this project happen in a more ambitious fashion,” he said. “I have been a local councillor for 25 per cent of my life and as I have already run this project in Treforest and Llanwit Fardre, having served on the councils in both those areas.”

The Emotivate Project gives young people the chance to develop their understanding of the history area at the same time as improve their IT skills in order to design and paint a mural reflecting their ideas of the area’s past and present and what they want the future to be like.

Mark Beech is the Chief Personnel, Strategy & Quality Officer at the Crocels Community Media Group, which the project is being run under the auspices of. “I am really pleased that Councillor Jonathan Bishop will be running our highly commended project, not only in Llantwit Fardre as planned, but Llantrisant also,” he said. “Being a historian myself, I am confident that Jonathan has designed a programme that will energise young people to have the passion for the history of Llantrisant and Llanwit Fardre that he has.

ART ACTION: Jonathan Bishop coordinated the restoration of the underpass in Treforest as part of the Emotivate Project. Courtesy: Jonathan Bishop Limited.
ART ACTION: Jonathan Bishop coordinated the restoration of the underpass in Treforest as part of the Emotivate Project. Courtesy: Jonathan Bishop Limited.

Councillor Jonathan Bishop said his project would help bring both communities in England and Wales together, promoting fellowship between the two nations. “Being a Freeman of Llantrisant I am proud to stand for election in the town,” he said. “My grandfather founded the Llantrisant Workingmen’s Club, former Council Chairman Ivor Jacob is a relative, my Great Aunt Lottie was a musician in the town, my great grandfather was a carpenter who worked on the Parish Church’s roof.
This project will be going ahead whether I win or lose, and there is so much the communities have in common without having to share the same councillor.
We have the Billy Wynt in Llantrisant, and Cam has Cam Peak.
We have the Cwm Coke Works here, and Cam and Dursley have Cam Mills.
Llantrisant has its castle ruins, and Dursley Castle has legendary status there too.

Council announces school shake-up

Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council has announced it is to close 11 schools as part of a 21-century transformation of education in the borough.

Around 7,000 pupils in the borough will be affected by $115m plans to create three “super schools,” following the approval of the plans by the council’s Cabinet.

Porth County Community School, Llwyncelyn Infants, Porth Infants, Porth Junior, Tonypandy Community College, Penygraig Infants, Penygraig Junior, Tonypandy Primary Ysgol Yr Eos, Tonyrefail Comprehensive and Tonyrefail Primary will all close, but councillors hope to convince parents that it will result in improved outcomes for their children.

Councillor Eudine Hanagan. Cabinet Member for Education. Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council.
NOT OLD SCHOOL: Cllr Eudine Hanagan plans to bring education in Rhondda Cynon Taf into the 21st century. Courtesy: RCT Council

Councillor Eudine Hanagan is the cabinet member for education and skills. “Education has been delivered in the same way since the 1960s and we need a radical step change to deliver the best possible opportunities for our young people,” she said. “Decisions we have taken previously to reorganise the delivery of education in RCT are already making an impact on attainment levels in the county borough.
I understand the concerns expressed with the proposals and these are understandable in light of the significant changes which are proposed.

The changes will result in the creation of new three-to-16 “middle schools” in Porth and Tonypandy, and a new three-to-19 “through school” will be created in Tonyrefail.

Not everyone is happy with the plans, however. Karen Roberts is the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ candidate for the Rhondda constituency in next year’s Welsh Assembly election. “Only one Councillor did turn up and speak against the plans – Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillor Mike Powell,” she said. “Mike represents the Trallwn ward which is not in the affected area, but that doesn’t stop him fighting against something which is so blatantly unfair.

E-learning expert, Jonathan Bishop, who is intending to contest the South Wales Central region of the Welsh Assembly elections as an independent, says he mostly welcomes the plans. “The creation of these middle and through schools is a step in the right direction and a welcome shift from whole centralisation and separation of sixth forms,” he said. “Extended schools, like Garth Olwg Community Campus, can provide lifelong learning opportunities so that schools are used by the whole community at all hours of the day, and not just for compulsory education.
The plans put forward by Eudine Hanagan and the RCT cabinet are therefore a step in the right direction as they could eventually become extended schools that the whole community benefit from.

Cllr Eudine Hanagan agreed that the plans would make a big difference. “These proposals will not only provide better opportunities for our young people and 21st century education facilities to learn in, they will also deliver a major boost to our local economy during their construction,” she said. “This is the biggest single investment in education in Wales which will deliver the best possible school facilities for our young people.
Parents rightly expressed the same concerns when ‘radical’ changes were considered at the time in Llanharry, for example, and likewise when we changed the delivery of education in Cynon Valley to create the new Aberdare High School.
Pupils in those two examples are now benefiting from those proposals, and excellent education facilities we have delivered are there for everyone to see and are making a very positive difference.

Labour ‘running scared’ on fox hunting

WITHOUT MERRITT: Steve Merrit, the CEO of the Labour-run Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council as said a petition against Cllr Ron Hunt's views on fox hunting should not be heard by Llantrisant Community Council. Courtesy: Obtained from Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council's website.
WITHOUT MERRITT: Steve Merrit, the CEO of the Labour-run Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council as said a petition against Cllr Ron Hunt’s views on fox hunting should not be heard by Llantrisant Community Council. Courtesy: Obtained from Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council’s website.

The chief executive of the Labour-run Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, Steve Merritt, has blocked an attempt for a petition on fox hunting to be debated by Llantrisant Community Council.

Steve Merritt said that the blocking of a petition signed by 51 residents in Tynant against calls by Labour councillor Ron Hunt to reintroduce the barbaric practice was the correct decision. Speaking to the petition organiser, Dzôn, Steve Merritt said: “The Clerk to the Community Council, quite properly, approached this Council’s Monitoring Officer for advice regarding the petition.
It is understood you have had a response confirming that individuals are entitled to their own views and that the Community Council has made not statements relating to the issues to which it is believed your petition refers.

Dzôn, who organised the petition during the Tynant by-election in December 2014, said the Labour Party is afraid of revealing its members true beliefs on the issue. “It is quite clear to me that Labour are running scared on fox hunting, which their members are divided on,” he said. “Their puppets on RCT Council like Steve Merrit will it seems do anything to stifle debate and avoid scrutiny requested by the public.

Christopher Williams is the Labour County Borough Councillor for Cymmer on Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council and says Cllr Ron Hunt’s views do not represent those of other councillors. “I’ve always been very clear on the issue, and have told those in my ward that I’m absolutely opposed to fox hunting, hare coursing, badger baiting etc,” he said. “It’s barbaric, and has no place in a modern society.

“No reason to submit petition” – Alison Jenkins

The Clerk of Llantrisant Community Council has blocked Dzôn’s request to submit to the council a petition of 51 signatures against the calls by newly elected community councillor, Ron Hunt, for fox hunting to be reintroduced.

PETITION: Dzôn has been blocked from putting his petition to Llantrisant Community Council. Courtesy: Jonathan Bishop Limited
PETITION: Dzôn has been blocked from putting his petition to Llantrisant Community Council. Courtesy: Jonathan Bishop Limited

Alison Jenkins, who is responsible for the council’s administrative arrangements, was adamant that the petition, which Dzôn promised to put before the council even if he lost the election, would not be heard by councillors. “I have spoken to my Vice Chair and the Monitoring Officer at RCT and all are agreed that the petition relates to the expressed views of a newly appointed Councillor,” she said. “Councillors are entitled to their own views, there would only be an issue if those views had been expressed as those of the Community Council.

Dzôn believes Alison Jenkins’s views show the contempt for the democratic process that exists in the South Wales Valleys. “I made a promise to the 51 people who signed my petition and the 20 people who voted for me than win or lose I would put this petition before Llantrisant Community Council,” he said. “Alison Jenkins it totally out of order not allowing this petition to be put to the full council.As a member of the public I have as much right to hold Cllr Ron Hunt to account for his views after the election as I did during the election.
“This is typical behaviour of the Labour-led establishment, censoring debate if it proves not to be to their liking.”

Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council’s returning officer, Christopher Jones, has not yet responded to a request for information on the issue.

RCT Chief Executive in ‘gagging’ row

DOESN'T MERRITT TWEETING: Steve Merrit, the CEO of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council objects to the public knowing how much he and other publicly funded civil servants are paid. Courtesy: Obtained from Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council's website.
DOESN’T MERRITT TWEETING: Steve Merrit, the CEO of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council objects to the public knowing how much he and other publicly funded civil servants are paid. Courtesy: Obtained from Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council’s website.

Steve Merritt, the Chief Executive of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, has been accused of trying to gag councillors from sharing information about his and other tax-payer funded civil servant’s salaries by email.

Councillor Mike Powell had an auto-forward feature set up, and it is alleged that following sharing the public information on staff salaries had this right removed.

The action comes in the way of false accounts being set up to parody cabinet members on the Council – an honour normally bestowed on more senior politicians.

When he was deputy chief executive, Steve Merritt, prior to being appointed to succeed Keith Griffiths as Chief Executive was paid £122,000 in redundancy payments – over 5 times the average salary.

As Councillor Mike Powell explains, being held to account for his takings from the public purse was not welcomed by Steve Merritt. “Someone has set up a Facebook and Twitter account under the name of RCT Twaddle and this person posted spread sheets containing a list of employee posts and salary grades within the Council,” he said. “A few weeks after these appeared I received a frankly insulting email from the Chief Executive, Steve Merritt, stating that he was aware that, as he put it ‘some of the information posted’ had been provided to me by the former Chief Executive back in November 2013.
He went on to say that he was ‘considering whether or not to commence a formal investigation into this data breach which would include reporting it to the appropriate regulatory authorities.
He asked for assurances from me that I had handled the information in accordance with the Members Code of Conduct and that it was not copied, used by, or disclosed to anyone else.

Disabled student loses court battle

A former Cardiff Metropolitan University student has failed in his legal battle to overturn the decisions of Cardiff Metropolitan University and Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council in refusing to allow him to complete his doctoral studies.

The student, who suffers from autism, accused Cardiff Metropolitan University of disability discrimination when it asked for him to provide access to his medical records, following the disclosure of a disability. The university contested that the student was a risk to staff and students and that it was reasonable to request these.

The student also contested that Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council failed in its duties under the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2012 to implement his support needs, which were assessed by Cardiff Metropolitan University in 2009, prior to a change in university policy resulting in this not being implemented as set out in a ‘needs assessment’ document they agreed with the student at the time.

Sitting in Pontypridd County Court, His Honour District Judge Doel, accepted the pleas of Cardiff Metropolitan University that the student had little prospect of winning the case – due to its complexity – and that the case should be struck out.

In January 2013, another student withdrew from her studies as a result of Cardiff Metropolitan University allegedly not putting support in place to accommodate her disability – the degenerative eye disorder, Stargardt’s Disease. In October 2013, another student complained of how he felt unable to disclose his mental health condition to the university. As far back as October 2007, Jane Croad, a senior lecturer in marketing, took Cardiff Metropolitan University to the employment tribunal, alleging they cut her teaching duties when she disclosed she had dyslexia and wanted support for it.

Pontypridd AM admits library defeat

COMPLETE MICK: Mick Antoniw is the Labour Assembly Member for Pontypridd. Courtesy: Wikipedia.
TAKING THE MICK: Save Beddau Library campaigner Dzon says Mick Antoniw is only against Library Closures because he has no responsibility for them, unlike his Labour colleagues who support the closures. Courtesy: Wikipedia.

The Welsh Assembly Member for Pontypridd, Mick Antoniw, has admitted defeat over Welsh Government and local authority plans to change the organisation of libraries in Wales and Rhondda Cynon Taf respectively.

Mick Antoniw AM said that despite speaking with Welsh Government Ministers over the issue, there is little more he can do to change government policy on the issue. “Following meetings with the Rydyfelin and Beddau library groups, I met with the Minister to discuss library provision as part of his wider review,” he said. “I believe that we have to look at library services in a different way, taking account of the changed role of libraries as community hubs and the growth of community trusts.
The Minister said that he is keen to engage with community library groups to learn from their experiences.

But Welsh Government Minister John Griffiths said closures are being made on their merits. “Any changes to services need to be evidence-based and they need to follow proper consultation with communities,” he said. “My officials are working with local authorities to understand the process that has been gone through, to consider the statutory requirements and to make sure that what eventually emerges is within those requirements.

Mick Antoniw not only had the Labour-led Welsh Government against him, but the Labour-run Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council also. In October 2013, then council leader, Councillor Anthony Christopher, said cuts were essential. “The proposals being put before cabinet next week would deliver savings of around £8 million ($13m) in a full year, demonstrating clearly how severe future decisions will need to be as we move towards filling a potential budget gap in excess of £56m ($91m),” he said. “Like Rhondda Cynon Taf, every local authority in Wales will be forced to make these similar tough decisions.
Despite the reductions in services that could eventually arise as a result of what cabinet may agree to consult on, I am confident the level and range of provision offered in Rhondda Cynon Taf will continue to compare favourably with other local authorities in South Wales.

TURING OVER A NEW LEAF: Beddau Library was closed by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council and new plans may see it opened on a not-for-profit basis. Courtesy: Obtained from Facebook.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS: Labour Assembly Member Mick Antoniw is against the closure of libraries like Beddau, which were proposed by his Labour colleagues. Courtesy: Obtained from Facebook.

Jonathan Bishop, known in politics as Dzon, stood in this year’s by-election in Beddau and said this shows the irrelevance of electing Labour at every level. “Mick Antoniw is saying he wants to keep libraries open, yet his colleagues in the Welsh Government and RCT Council want them closed,” he said. “It is very convenient that Mick Antoniw is against library closures, such as those in Beddau, when he has no powers to do anything about the issue!

Beddau library plans don’t add up

The Beddau community near Llantrisant is in uproar over plans to close Beddau library even though the council’s own research doesn’t provide any substantial evidence in support of the proposed closure.

TURING OVER A NEW LEAF: Beddau Library was closed by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council and new plans may see it opened on a not-for-profit basis. Courtesy: Obtained from Facebook.
CLOSED FOR COMFORT: Jonathan Bishop says closing Beddau Library will have a detrimental affect on the area. Courtesy: Obtained from Facebook.

Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council has said firmly that it wants to close Beddau’s library, which services the communities of Beddau and Tynant, but can provide no reason to do so other than the need to cut the budget. The closure of Beddau Library is supported by the deputy chief executive of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council Steve Merritt and the Deputy Leader of the Council, Paul Cannon.

Jonathan Bishop is a member of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and part of the Save Beddau Library campaign. “The data collected by council officials shows that there is a statistically sound case for keeping Beddau Library open,” he said. “Users of Beddau library were in the highest 25% percentile of respondents to the consultation with 100% of people in a sample size of 129 saying the library should stay open.
As a scientist I cannot see any justification for closing the library when the data says so clearly that out of all libraries over 14% of those consulted by RCT Council want to keep Beddau Library open, and only Hirwaun and Porth were higher at 15.65% and 20.45% respectively.
What knowledge do Steve Merritt and Paul Cannon have of libraries or statistics? I got top grades in my modules at Aberystwyth School of Library and Information Studies and can easily see the errors of judgement being made by RCT.
Paul Cannon is a former police officer and Steve Merritt studied accounting over 30 years ago!
These are not the best people to be setting budgets on libraries and should be ashamed to be playing a numbers game with the people of Beddau when they can’t even properly interpret the data they collected themselves! In the report they do not even know that a table should be formatted and referred to differently to a figure!

Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council has admitted that closing Beddau Library would impact negatively on the council’s performance against the Welsh Government’s Library Standards and does not sustain the Libraries Inspire Framework. Instead they acknowledge it would lead to a reduction in local ICT provision and would impact upon literacy skills support within the community. Paul Cannon has chosen to defend the council’s decision. “Changes to both the Library and Day Centre proposals emphasise that Cabinet has listened to the consultation and taken consideration of the views expressed,” he said. “As was made clear at the meeting, tough decisions cannot be avoid (sic) but where valid issues have been expressed we have responded as far as is practically possible and affordable.

John Griffiths is the Welsh Government’s culture minister. “Any changes to services need to be evidence-based and they need to follow proper consultation with communities,” he said. Jonathan Bishop has said he has responded to the council’s consultation arguing why Beddau Library should be kept open for the economic and statistical reasons referred to by John Griffiths and says he hopes the council will listen to the data and not their prejudices.

Beddau Library user, John Llewellyn, agrees with Jonathan Bishop that the politicians have questions to answer. “I have been speaking to interested parties and the campaign, although focused on keeping Beddau library open, will try to involve local councillors and cabinet members,” he said. “It will not seek to apportion blame but will seek the widest possible support within the community and if needed, after the end of the consultation period, a solution seeking alternative funding together with a grant to enable Beddau library to stay open.

Tynant councilor ‘sacked’

COUNCILOR: Clayton Willis is the Labour Councillor for Ty Nant. Courtesy: Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council
SACKED?: Experienced and critical Councillor, Clayton Willis, is removed from the Cabinet of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council. Courtesy: Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council

Tynant councilor Clayton Willis has been sacked from his cabinet member position at Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, according to the council’s wet-behind-the-ears Labour leader Andrew Morgan.

Clayton Willis was called in by successive Labour council leaders to take tough and unpopular decisions, including cuts to staffing to an extent that had ever been seen since Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council’s existence. This included him being asked to take the fall for redundancy bills of over $800,000 (£500,000) and being asked to win support for cutting the hours for future full-time staff from 37 to 35 per week, as well as changing temporary staff hours to 30 and giving employees the chance to reduce their hours.

Sources close to the RCT Labour administration suggested it was an attempt by Cllr Morgan to kick out the older members, who might not agree with his cuts to public spending. Dzon, known professionally as Jonathan Bishop, is a former Labour Party member who speaks highly of Clayton Willis. “Knowing Clayton as I have since he was my de facto mentor when I became interested in elected office in 2002, it is more likely than not that the ‘new guard’ in the Labour Party at RCT don’t like their idiot spending cuts questioned,” he said. “RCT Labour’s savage cuts are totally mindless, and if experienced people like Clayton were listened to, it would be possible to cut spending without cutting services, by making services more efficient.