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Soap actor takes new political role

Council leader John Davies is the voice of the Welsh Local Government Association. George Wright reports.

Among the many new politicians' faces that teachers will be getting to know over the next term, John Davies's might seem a little more familiar.

The new lifelong learning spokesman for the Welsh Local Government Association is also a part-time actor, with an on-off role in the BBC's longest-running Welsh-medium TV soap, Pobol y Cwm.

Lately, his acting work has given way to his increasing role in local politics. But, he suggests, the two jobs "help each other - because politics is about performance as well".

The father-of-two knows he will need to put on a decent political performance if he is to help local education authorities cope with the impact of changing demographics on smaller, rural schools.

As an independent cabinet member during two years of educational upheaval in Pembrokeshire, where the school roll is falling by 250 pupils every year, he oversaw the closure of schools in his own community. Despite intense local opposition, he stood his ground for what he sees as progress.

He sees his main job as WLGA education spokesman being to "fight the corner" of education at a time when other, equally deserving sectors are also battling for a bigger share of the Welsh Assembly's limited funds.

"The primary short-term issue is funding, including how to fund the workload agreement. We are entering a sea of uncertainty regarding the next settlement for local government, with the revaluation and reform of the rates support grant for social services, and an increasing health agenda in Wales.

"But there is only a limited pot of money and I think someone is going to have to be vocal in defending education's corner."

Being vocal, though, is something Mr Davies, now leader of Pembrokeshire council, knows all about. At the age of 41 he is burning with ambition, but has limited experience of the national political stage. He faces a steep learning curve in his new role.

But he is optimistic about the potential for a more inclusive programme of decision-making in the WLGA now that a cross-section of parties and independents share control of policy areas that were once Labour-dominated.

"The business remains the same, but how we do that business will definitely change. We have a good balance of party politicians and independent councillors. It opens all sorts of opportunities for more inclusive co-working, and there's no reason why this cohesive approach shouldn't flourish and benefit everyone in local government."

While Mr Davies will be covering compulsory education, colleague Harvey Jones will take on the post-16 brief, where he foresees an increased role for local government following the Welsh Assembly's decision to rein in ELWa, the sector's funding agency.

As leader of Merthyr Tydfil, Mr Jones has overseen a large-scale review of post-16 education, resulting in plans for a lifelong learning centre or campus instead of separate school sixth-forms. He could be instrumental in exporting the blueprint to other LEAs.

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