Old-timers set to hand over power

4th June 2004 at 01:00
On the eve of local elections, some well-known faces are stepping down to make way for young blood, Philippa White and Bob Arthur report

Teachers can expect to see some new faces in charge of education services after next week's local elections - regardless of the outcome of the poll.

That is because a swathe of "old hands" are standing down to make way for new blood on councils across Wales.

High-profile resignees include Sir Harry Jones, leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, and Jeff Jones, the association's controversial education spokesman - who faces a High Court summons for alleged contempt of court later this month.

The famously no-nonsense Bridgend council leader is quitting after 25 years in local politics. But for a firebrand politician, he is surprisingly sentimental about education.

He has just retired from Swansea college where his last job was to co-ordinate humanities courses for students returning to education. "I remember one woman who had left school at 15 without any qualifications, who went on to get a first-class honours degree at university," he said.

"If you are a teacher of any sort, that's a real buzz."

Mr Jones, now 53, joined his local community council in 1979, and the county council in 1981. When the WLGA was formed in 1996 he became education spokesman for its 22 member councils.

His aim has been to get as much money as possible into education, and he pays tribute to the efforts of the Welsh Assembly government and education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson.

He has decided to leave politics for personal reasons, which he chooses not to explain, but he regrets that he will not be council leader when a new private finance initiative school and Welsh-medium comprehensive open in Maesteg in 2006.

His court summons relates to a letter he wrote to a child-abuse inquiry run by Peter Clarke, children's commissioner for Wales. The Clwych inquiry is investigating allegations against Welsh drama teacher John Owen, who committed suicide in 2001.

Mr Jones, who is married with two children, could face jail but remains calm. "I'm confident that when the truth comes out I will be vindicated," he said.

His departure, and that of Sir Harry Jones, will leave the WLGA with two key positions to fill. Sir Harry, 76, says education has always been a priority for the association and cites rising standards and the abolition of league tables as evidence of its work.

Colleagues paid tribute to his shrewdness, knowledge and "moderate voice" on a range of issues. A Labour seat in the House of Lords is rumoured to be in the pipeline for the ex-merchant naval officer and trade unionist.

He stands down at the same time as John Pembridge, another veteran Newport councillor and the cabinet member for children's services. Mr Pembridge, who joined the authority as a 25-year-old youth club leader, says he is going before he turns into the same type of elderly representative who shouted him down when he first started.

The 62-year-old, who still lives in Maesglas, where he grew up, says his council career was motivated by his own sense of injustice at failing the 11-plus.

"I've always had a soft spot for youngsters," he said. "I felt really aggrieved that we were telling someone at 11 years of age that they were a no-hoper, and I wanted to do something about that."

Mr Pembridge is proud that his portfolio - a merger of Newport's education and social services four years ago - is now being copied in England.

"Children have so many influences in their lives that affect learning. This system is improving their life chances."

Other leading education councillors standing down include Charles Henrywood (Labour) at Neath Port Talbot, and Peredur Eklund (Lib Dem) at Ceredigion.

Harvey Jones (Labour) has given up the schools brief at Merthyr Tydfil council but is running again.

Mr Henrywood, 64, a retired special needs adviser, is predicting a "rough patch" for education in the next two years - but said that had not affected his decision to quit, after 25 years in local politics.

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