TWO Milford Haven councillors have expressed serious concerns about fellow councillors’ commitment to a new Milford Haven School.
County Councillors Viv and Mike Stoddart spoke out after senior opposition councillors suggested the project should be postponed or scrapped.
COUNCIL HAS A “MORAL IMPERATIVE” TO DELIVER MILFORD HAVEN’S NEW SCHOOL
Although Cabinet members remain committed to the scheme, increased construction costs and tightening budgets caused some council members to question the project’s future.
Commenting on the length of time developing the school had taken since it was first promised, Viv Stoddart told The Herald: “I have long been concerned that plans for the town’s new school have been put on the back burner.
“Everything said in Council last week confirmed my worst fears.
“In earlier meetings, the Education Directorate told councillors that the then-projected new school would not be ready until 2027. That means some pupils will have spent all their education in a sub-standard facility.
“There is a moral imperative for this authority to stand by its commitment to provide a new fit-for-purpose school for Milford Haven.”
The issue came to a head during last week’s Full Council meeting.
The debate initially centred on how the local authority would deliver the school’s improvements.
Following a long-standing but unfulfilled pledge, the Council entered into a Mutual Investment Model (MIM) with the Welsh Government last year to rebuild and improve Milford Haven School’s dated facilities.
MIM schemes see private partners build and maintain public assets. In return, the Welsh Government pays the partner a fee, covering each project’s construction, maintenance and financing cost. The Council pays into a fund to help pay off the private partner at the end of the contract.
When a MIM contract ends, the asset is transferred to public ownership.
COUNCILLORS ASK IF SCHOOL IS “AFFORDABLE” OR “DELIVERABLE”
Interventions from Jamie Adams and John Cwmbetws Davies raised the prospect of the Council cutting back on funding capital projects.
Councillor Adams highlighted the “huge uplifts in the costs of capital projects”. He questioned whether the time was right to embark on further capital projects to overburden the Council’s revenue budget. He said he did not believe the Council could deliver Milford Haven School at a reasonable cost.
The Cabinet Member for Finance, Alec Cormack, told members that money received from the Welsh Government had a time limit for its use. Hanging on to see if a better price emerged risked losing the funding, without which new schools would be undeliverable.
Cllr John Davies said: “We must cut our cloth accordingly for the development in Milford Haven. There comes the point when the project becomes unaffordable, and that point is getting very close. We must consider the project’s affordability and look at it again.”
Alec Cormack said he and finance officers would give members a chance to consider the planned capital budget after the Christmas holiday.
That scrutiny would include Milford Haven School.
MILFORD HAVEN MUST NOT BE AT THE “BACK OF THE QUEUE
Cllr Viv Stoddart gave short shrift to the notion that a new school for Milford Haven could be left in development hell waiting for something to turn up.
Haverfordwest, Fishguard, and Pembroke, serving the County’s other major population centres, have new schools designed to modern standards. Milford Haven facilities remain as they were when it was built: outdated and unable to meet the demands of 21st-century education.
Cllr Mike Stoddart told us: “The response from Cabinet members and officers was all rather vague.
“And it was concerning to hear members from other parts of the County raising doubts about the affordability of the MIM scheme for Milford Haven’s new school.
“Over the coming weeks, as we finalise next year’s budget, I will seek reassurance that Milford Haven will not be left at the back of the queue.”