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Operation Jasmine families made review possible - MP

Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith has campaigned on behalf of the families of those alleged to have suffered abuse and neglect. He's welcomed the announcement of an independent review.

When I met the families affected by the collapse of Operation Jasmine in March, two things were clear. They wanted answers and they wanted justice.

Without the bold decision by the First Minister today, these families would have been let down by the system.

Their pain and guilt over what happened to their loved ones deserved a response, and I cannot welcome this response enough.

From the first time I saw the disturbing images of wickedness at these care homes, I knew it was a story that needed to be told and for real lessons to be learned from it.

In the months since, I have been campaigning hard in Parliament to change care home laws, while working with the Deputy Minister for Social Services and Older People’s Commissioner to secure an inquiry - always with their story at the forefront of my mind.

But it is the tireless work by these families that has made this possible today. We will no longer have to talk about 12,000 tonnes of evidence lying locked in a warehouse, or a criminal case lying on file.

Instead we will have a review that will tell the public the full story, and hopefully spare generations to come from tragic stories such as this.

– Nick Smith MP, Blaenau Gwent

Race-track boss: 'We are confident in the plans'

The company behind the plans for the 'Circuit of Wales' race-track say they will work with the Welsh Government to overcome any concerns about the development.

We are very confident in the outline planning application we have submitted and are delighted that we received the unanimous backing of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council in today’s vote. The Welsh Government has asked for more time to look at the project and we’re happy to continue engaging with them and all stakeholders to ensure we address, as much as possible, the specific concerns they have.

– Michael Carrick, Chief Executive of Heads of the Valleys Development Company.


Valleys' £280m racetrack decision put on-hold

Blaenau Gwent Council was today asked not to give planning consent to the racetrack.

Planning approval for the 'Circuit of Wales' racetrack north of Ebbw Vale was stopped in its tracks today.

The Welsh Government stepped in to ask Blaenau Gwent Council not to give the plans the green light as ministers want to look at the plans in more detail.

"The holding direction provides the Welsh Ministers with more time within which to consider whether or not the application should be called in for their own determination," said a government spokesman.

"The Welsh Ministers have been asked to call-in the application and those requests are still under consideration. The holding direction provides the Welsh Ministers with more time within which to consider whether or not the application should be called in for their own determination."

The holding direction prevents the council from granting planning permission but doesn't stop the council from continuing to process the application.

Welsh lottery winner loses out on £1m

The £1m winner lived in Blaenau Gwent but failed to claim the prize.

A mystery would-be millionaire missed out on a lottery jackpot in one of Wales most hard-up areas today. The ticket holder stood to pocket £1m after their numbers came-up in one of the country's deprivation blackspots.

But the winner from Blaenau Gwent failed to come forward for six months after hitting the jackpot. And now they've lost the lot with their "life-changing" prize going back into the National Lottery pot.

A Camelot spokesman said: "Unfortunately, I can confirm that the ticket-holder did not come forward within the deadline to claim their prize. Sadly they have now missed out on this substantial amount of money."

The unclaimed ticket sparked a "whowonnit" mystery in the former steelworks andmining area. The ticket holder won big on New Year's Day matching up the code on theMillionaire's raffle.

Had the winner come forward they would be one of the richest people in the area as the average gross weekly earnings is around £342 - below the Welsh average of £415.50.

Welsh Government: 'Very concerned' over Blaenau Gwent school standards

The Welsh Government says it's concerned about the slow change of pace to improving education standards in Blaenau Gwent. The council's education services were placed in 'special measures' in 2011.

Today a report by the education inspectorate Estyn says standards are still 'unsatisfactory'.

We are very concerned by Estyn's findings. Performance at the local authority continues to be unsatisfactory and disappointing. The Minister will make a statement to Assembly Members to outline the actions we will be taking with regard to Blaenau Gwent.

"The Minister will meet the Commissioner on Monday. We know she has serious concerns about the pace of change in the local authority and we will discuss the best way forward

– Welsh Government spokesperson


Blaenau Gwent Council: 'there are signs of improvement'

Whilst the overall judgement of the report was unsatisfactory it has to be recognised that there has been limited time since the Council was first placed in special measures in September 2011 to deliver progress in many areas.

There are signs of improvement. As a result of the work that the Council and the South East Wales Education Achievement Service (EAS) has been undertaking the Council has more accurate information on schools' performance and is beginning to use the data more systematically.

There has also been good progress in improving attendance in Blaenau Gwent schools. An action plan needs to be prepared now that the Council's inspection report has been published by Estyn today.

– Blaenau Gwent Council spokesperson

School improvements in Blaenau Gwent 'too slow'

The education system in one of the poorest parts of Wales is to remain in 'special measures' as education standards are still 'unsatisfactory'.

The school's inspectorate for Wales, Estyn has released a report today which lists a catalogue of failings which include:

  • Standards of attainment are unsatisfactory, particularly in secondary schools
  • The number of days lost to exclusion are increasing
  • Initiatives for school improvement are too fragmented
  • leadership has not generated improvements in areas of underperformance

The report does say attendance rates in primary schools are above average but the capacity to improve overall is unsatisfactory because:

The leadership of local authority services for children and young people continues to be unstable; the pace of action to bring about improvement has been too slow in the past to assure inspectors that improvement will take place without continued external support and challenge

– Estyn

'Serious concerns' over Blaenau Gwent schools

The schools inspectorate for Wales Estyn says standards in the borough are still unsatisfactory. Credit: PA

The Welsh Government says there are serious concerns over the pace of change to education standards in Blaenau Gwent. The borough's schools were placed in 'special measures' in September 2011 when its education standards were deemed to be failing children.

A commissioner was appointed to oversee change but a report out today from the schools inspectorate for Wales, Estyn says education services are still 'unsatisfactory'.

In a damning report it says for the last three years Blaenau Gwent's council has not met any of the Welsh Government benchmarks for attainment based on free-school-meal entitlement and the number of days lost to exclusion are increasing.

It adds that officers and school leaders have not been held to account effectively and the pace of change is far too slow. The council has been told it has to provide an action plan in the next 50 days.

The council says there has been good progress in improving attendance in its schools but it says while the overall judgement of the report is unsatisfactory it has to be recognised that there has been limited time to deliver progress in many areas.

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