Llanfyllin Councillors cleared of wrongdoing

Reporter:

Owain Farrington

AN INVESTIGATION into the actions of four county councillors has found they did not breach the code of conduct concerning the use of a high school’s delegated budget.

Councillor Peter Lewis, Cllr Gwynfor Thomas, Cllr Aled Davies and ex-councillor Darren Mayor were reported to the ombudsman as Llanfyllin High School had been subsidising home to school transport with the schools’ delegated budget from Powys County Council (PCC).

An earlier decision by PCC prohibited such use of the funds as it allowed schools to “poach” pupils from a wider area, clause 5.2 was to be adhered to by 2011, yet the school continued into 2015.

Yet the four councillors maintained that the use of the funds was beneficial to the school and that senior members of the council knew of the use.

In the report, Investigator Chris Vinestock said: “I am satisfied that the governors, (including governor/councillors), were acting in the genuinely held belief that the council either knew what was going on, or should have known from the school’s annual budgets and the PricewaterhouseCooper Report (2014), and was taking no action.

“As such, I can understand why the governors, (including governor/councillors), reached the view (rightly or wrongly) that the council was endorsing what the school was doing.

“I have concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that (the councillors) have breached (the code).”

The investigation also found the councillors were acting in good faith by not implementing clause 5.2, Mr Vinestock added: “I am satisfied that the governors genuinely believed that implementing it would be (and has been) detrimental to the school.”

The councillors have said they are happy to be vindicated but frustrated about the ordeal.

Cllr Lewis said: “This is fantastic but not unexpected news from the ombudsman . This vindicates myself and my fellow councillors, but not just us but the school governors.

“It wholly restores integrity of Llanfyllin High School which has been so damaged by this controversy.

“It shows that the previous cabinet decisions were very flawed, made worse by the waste of tax payers’ money on not one but two investigations by the Barrister Jonathan Walters.

“The ombudsman said in his report that we did everything in the best interest of the school.”

Mr Mayor echoed Cllr Lewis, he added: “Why didn’t they raise any issue before the audit officer got involved? Because as we always stated they knew and endorsed the business model we had.

“However once the Welsh Audit Office got involved the four LEA Governors – I being one of them – were suspended from LEA governor duties.

“All the blame was laid at the feet of the governors.

“On a personal note I was forced by the leader (then Barry Thomas) to resign as he felt I lacked the integrity needed in the post – but obviously the Ombudsman is of a different opinion.”

Cllr Aled Davies, leader of the Conservatives in PCC and current cabinet member for finance, said: “The actions taken by the previous cabinet have caused harm to Llanfyllin High School and has led to uncertainty about the future education of some of the school’s pupils.

“We have an opportunity for a new start with the appointment of an excellent new headteacher, who will take up his post in September. I am sure he will lead and inspire a great team of teachers and support staff to deliver a first class education.’’

Since the investigation began, it has been found that Llanidloes High School and Ysgol Bro Hyddgen have also breached clause 5.2, raising questions about whether the clause is viable.

Cllr Gwynfor Thomas said: “It has been a complete and utter waste of time. It is good there has been a resolution.

“The one thing is what are they going to do with the other schools? It will be interesting.

“It seems logical to have a look at the policy because it is detrimental to all the schools.”

Cllr Lewis has said he will be requesting a meeting with the Portfolio Holder for Education Cllr Myfanwy Alexander to request a review of the policy.

 

When PCC was contacted for a response to the report, Clive Pinney, solicitor to the council said: “The council has received the decision from the Local Government Ombudsman and has noted the ombudsman’s comments.”

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