Councillor Gareth Ratcliffe has responded to comments made by James Evans MS surrounding Gwernyfed High School.

Cllr Gareth Ratcliffe

Last week Evans called on Powys County Council to provide some certainty on whether Gwernyfed High School will receive funding to redevelop the building.

Powys County Council’s Liberal Democrat/Labour Cabinet signed off on a Strategic Outline Programme (SOP) last month which would see around £300 million invested in building new schools in the county over the next decade.

But the list of proposals from Powys made no mention of Gwernyfed High School.

During the previous Independent/Conservative council administration plans to redevelop Gwernyfed - including a new building - had been mooted.

This proposal was shelved as the money earmarked for the scheme was moved and spent to complete school building projects in the north of Powys.

The MS for Brecon and Radnorshire said: “It’s about time the Lib Dem/Labour councillors came clean on just why Gwernyfed High School are not getting the new state of the art facilities they were promised, and explain why it’s been left out of their investment programme for our schools.

“Yet again, this is another failed promise from the Lib Dems and Labour, leaving an entire area feeling like they’ve been forgotten about.”

Councillor Gareth Ratcliffe, who is a governor at Gwernyfed High responded to Evans in a public letter. He said: “I wish to publicly respond to your call for clarity on the development of a new secondary school for the Gwernyfed catchment. I am pleased to say this is something we agree on as I have been calling for this for some time, so thank you for supporting my call.

“However, that is where our agreement ends. I am deeply disappointed that you seem unaware of your actions as a cabinet member back in September 2020. During that time, you seconded a report presented by County Councillor Phyl Davies, the Portfolio Holder for Education and Property. This report, the Revised 21st C Schools Band B Strategic Outline Programme (SOP), resulted in the removal of the £7.2 million earmarked for the Gwernyfed build and also removed the timescales that was in the original report that the cabinet. I’m surprised you did not look or question the change of direction presented in this updated revised report against the 1st report that put the investment into Gwernyfed. 

“I have reviewed the cabinet recording and minutes, and I am amazed you did not pick up on these significant changes. In fact, you seconded the paper, stating something to the effect of, ‘It was about time Powys tackled education in the county, and you were proud to second the motion.’ While this may not be your exact words, it captures the sentiment you expressed.This is surprising, given that at the time, you were the local member for Gwernyfed and a governor of Gwernyfed High School, just before you stood down to become a Senedd member.

“In October 2020 PCC released a statement from the portfolio holder stating that ‘Our intention was to remodel the existing Gwernyfed High School building and this was proving to be problematic so our ambition now is to provide a brand new campus. Not only is this in line with our transforming education strategy, it could provide young people in this area with greater learning opportunities and will also ensure that the school will be able to deliver the new national educational curriculum for Wales. We are now exploring suitable site opportunities within the Gwernyfed area. If our ambition is realised, we will be providing world-class facilities for our learners, their families and the wider community.’

”This is despite removing the funding and just allocating £300k for a scoping exercise/. Councillors who were not in the cabinet were hoodwinked by your administration  “On the 16th of July 2021 I had the following response from the then-Tory portfolio holder: ‘We are committed to improving our whole schools infrastructure across Powys, and officers have been working on plans for a new school building for Gwernyfed over the last year.  Unfortunately, officers have had to re-prioritise their focus for now in order to deal with a number of projects that are further in development than Gwernyfed.  However, we hope to be able to continue on the Gwernyfed project later this year.’

And again on 18th October 2021 I followed up and I had this response ‘In July, I explained that the Gwernyfed school project had been put on hold due to officers having to focus on other priorities.  I’m pleased to say that the team can now re-commence the work on the Gwernyfed High School project.  I’m also aware of the on-going costs of maintaining the school and the costs of this will be factored into the Council’s Major Improvements Programme’ “So James I hope you can reflect and back Gwernyfed with positive actions not just pop your head up when you think the public wants you to.

“If this is a surprise to you that your actions were detrimental not only to the school but also to the wider community at risk if we are unable to get funding  following your action from when you were a portfolio holder I would recommend you consider your position as a member of Senedd.” 

James Evans MS said: “It’s commendable to see Cllr Ratcliffe’s support for his failing Lib Dem administration in County Hall.

“However, I will take no lectures from a councillor who stood on a manifesto pledge not to close small schools or put up council tax only to go back on his promises - as the Lib Dems and Labour have closed small schools and put up council tax, breaking their manifesto commitments to the people of Powys.

“The Lib Dems cannot be trusted, and if Cllr Ratcliffe is so righteous and moral, maybe he should join another political group in the council who share his views, as he has done this more than once in the past.”