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Councillors cleared of wrongdoing over Llanfyllin High School transport

Mid Wales | Education | Published:

Four councillors who were suspended as school governors in a long running row over £500,000 spent on home-to-school transport have been cleared of wrongdoing by an ombudsman.

Llanfyllin High School

The saga began in early 2015, when the Wales Audit Office found Llanfyllin High School spent money on subsidising transport costs of pupils from outside the catchment - including 149 from Shropshire and 38 from Powys - against the council policy.

County Councillors Aled Davies, now deputy leader of Powys County Council, Peter Lewis, Gwynfor Thomas and Darren Mayor, were suspended from their roles, but always claimed they were transparent and that the county council knew what was going on.

Councillor Mayor lost his position on the cabinet having held the portfolio for property and buildings.

After appealing their suspensions, the council's solicitor Clive Pinney made a complaint to the ombudsman regarding a breach of the code of conduct.

Now the Public Ombudsman for Wales has cleared all four councillors of any wrongdoing.

Councillor Peter Lewis, along with other councillors, parents and governors battled to clear the councillor's names for over 12 months.

He said despite being delighted with the news, the report shows the cabinet was flawed in its decisions, and wasted taxpayers' money on investigation reports.

He said: "This is fantastic but not unexpected news from the Ombudsman.

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"This vindicates myself and my fellow councillors, not just us but the school governors.

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

"Its 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 report from the ombudsman stated: "I am satisfied that the governors genuinely believed that implementing it would be (and has been) detrimental to the school.

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"I am satisfied the governors were acting in genuinely held belief that the council either knew what was going on or should have know from the annual budgets and was taking no action."

"I have concluded that there is no evidence to suggest Councillor Lewis has breached the code."

Mr Mayor, who is no longer a councillor after losing his Llanwddyn seat in the local elections, said the saga cost him his job and that he is pleased the governors and school have been vindicated.

He added: "I question why I lost my cabinet position and lost my job over this because we have now been cleared by the Ombudsman.

"We never hid anything, and it is pleasing that it shows we acted in the best interests. This will help people restore faith in what we did, and that we were not hiding anything."

In June 2016, Councillor's Lewis, Davies and Mayor were suspended for three months, and councillor Thomas for one month.

County Councillor Myfanwy Alexander, cabinet member for education when the breach of rule 5.2 was taking place, was suspended from being a governor at any school. She is now back in her role was education portfolio holder under the new cabinet.

A long and drawn out process has seen various investigations take place over the last 14 months.

In August 2016, it was revealed that a £50,000 report by Price Waterhouse Cooper was commissioned in 2014 into what schools in Powys were spending their delegated budget on.

The report, which showed the school was spending £102,500 per year since 2011 on home to school transport, was sent to Chief Executive Jeremy Patterson, and Education Portfolio Holder Arwel Jones.

On Tuesday, a further report on high schools in Llanidloes and Machynlleth will be discussed by the cabinet, into their spends on home to school transport from the delegated budget.

Councillor Lewis hopes the two schools will be dealt with in the same way, and is calling for a change in the rules on home to school transport.

He added: "I am very annoyed that the Council reported us Councillors and has taken so long to clear our names and at the same time it has come to light that other Schools were not compliant.

"This report is going to Cabinet this Tuesday . I wonder will the Cabinet treat the LEA Governors the same as we were.

"This whole matter has caused great distress and in one case, resulted in a dismissal from a Cabinet position.

"It has been intolerable and the Ombudsman said in his report that we did everything in the best interest of the school."

Since the school have had to comply with regulation 5.2, pupil numbers have dropped and they have had to make teaching staff redundant.

Councillor Lewis said he will be requesting a meeting with Councillor Alexander, urging her to review the home to school transport policy.

In response, Mr Pinney said: "The council has received the decision from the Local Government Ombudsman and has noted the ombudsman's comments.”

Mr Davies said he is pleased with the outcome and the school now has an opportunity for a new start.

He added: "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 for our young people and Llanfyllin will once again be the school of choice.’’

Jonny Drury

By Jonny Drury
@JonnyDrury_Star

Reporter covering Oswestry and Mid Wales

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