The death of rural communities in North Wales

13 12 2007

I went to my first mass demonstration since the 80s today! I am lucky enough to have been brought up and to live in Gwynedd, an incredibly beautiful corner of Wales on the west coast of the British Isles. Apart from a few notable towns, it is mostly mountainous and sparsely populated. Over 2/3rds of the rural population speak Welsh as their first Language.

The Council under duress from the Welsh Assembly and through a complete lack of vision and leadership has decided that it cannot afford to run 29 of its rural schools and will shut them down. In addition to this it will castrate many other rural schools by federalising them “Newspeak” for; their future is limited, or you are next.

I am not politically active, nor do i want to be.. politics in the UK be it local or national is unfortunately made up of people whose lack of humility, blinkered self interest and love of their own is overwhelming,and distasteful, to the detriment of the genuine few. The continuing fall in the number of people who can be arsed to vote in any election is evidence enough of the fact that these people are not genuine, capable or interested in our future, only their own.

So once that I heard that there was to be a rally to protest against this I re-arranged the dates of my meetings in London, took an extended lunch and went off to Caernarfon to the County Council Headquarters to join other villagers and to express my contempt for the individuals who are responsible for the final nails in the coffin of our “inconvenient rural communities”.

Cymuned iach ysgol fach - Mass demonstration outside Cyngor Gwynedd Council 13/12/07

To read a recent interview with the officers and politicians that are responsible for this travesty it is clear that they are in denial of the fact that they are responsible for running a rural county. True, they are under pressure from equally contemptuous, faceless bureaucrats from the Welsh assembly. But the tone of the interview in the daily post gives lie to their complete lack of imagination, lack of respect for the people that pay their wages and their inability to think or plan strategically at a departmental, organisational and most crucially at a political level.

This vacumn has had to be filled by the people who live and work in the communities that are under threat. People who are clearly happy with the standard of their children’s education (God forbid, an education that apparently costs £300 more per pupil per annum than the Welsh average) . People who understand that sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made by the Council or its officers. People who do not make a habit of political protest.


It is clear to me that the officers and politicians that are responsible for this “plan” (at both Local and Welsh assembly levels of government) are determined to go through with it. They have said there is no “Plan B”.

It is also sadly apparent that Dafydd Iwan the leader of Plaid Cymru and his peers do not have the vision or determination to save the very communities and culture that they hold so dear. The only answer to this betrayal is to make it absolutely clear that they will be voted out of office at the earliest possible opportunity and that the Council officers who are so determined to close our villages down are also made answerable for their failings.

To be employed in a job that has the word strategic in its job title and to draft and recommend this short sighted “Easy option” is a joke. A joke that is not funny.

How much do these people HOPE to save in ten years time? £1.5 million per annum. Other Senior Council sources have told me that the real figure is closer to £500,000. Meanwhile hundreds of kilometres of empty rural lanes are lit needlessly all through the night, Gwynedd Councillors take in excess of £1 million a year in expenses and a number of other non-statutory obligations are funded by the Council from adult training to funding the National Eisteddfodau. No matter how important and contentious these events/organisations are – taking the heart out of the communities and their future generations of Welsh speakers, poets and musicians is sign of a complete failure of responsibility on the part of the Council.

Fuel is forecast to be in the region of £3.10 to £6 per litre in 2010 – 2012. Notwithstanding the complete conflict between the aims of this and Agenda 21 – How sustainable, how cost-effective will it be for the taxpayer to fund the daily transport bill for bussing thousands of children for hundreds of miles every day?


The Solution?

It is clear that there is no single solution that will fit all schools that are currently under threat. However this does not mean that practicable, contingent and cost-effective solutions cannot be drafted and implemented. A friend who works at a senior level in the regeneration of urban areas in the North of England has already made the following point to me:

“There is an obvious route here..and that is not to look at the schools just as schools. They are a community resource that offers the opportunity for the creation of jobs and wealth within these communities.

The Welsh Assembly is promoting social enterprise as a route for wealth creation and some of the most successful social enterprises are nurseries. Co-location with a school offers the possibility of extended and wraparound care including breakfast and after school clubs. A little bit of vision is required here. If you’re going to spend £30m then don’t waste it on building bigger schools and closing existing resources, plough it into wealth creation.