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The high cost of leaving?

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screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-16-16-43A STUDENT group has criticised the cost of a ‘Garden Party’ farewell for departing Aberystwyth University Vice Chancellor Professor April McMahon. Making a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the group learned that Aberystwyth University spent £843.65 on refreshments, with university staff serving and preparing the party.

The group, calling themselves ‘Ffrindiau Pantycelyn’ (Friends of Pantycelyn), campaign for re-opening Pantycelyn halls and on other university matters. A spokesperson for the group, Jeff Smith, told The Herald: “After the university insisted that money was scarce and this would endanger the re-opening of Neua dd Pantycelyn (Pantycelyn Hall of Residence), it defies all common sense that the university has paid nearly a thousand pounds to hold a farewell party for a Vice-Chancellor who has driven the university to the abyss. This is concerning for anyone who wants to see the university thrive, and we call on the university to invest wisely and keep to its true financial priorities, such as re-opening Neuadd Pantycelyn.”

Professor McMahon’s tenure as VC was controversial. According to Ffrindiau Pantycelyn, it was fraught with ‘accusations of bullying, sackings and a culture of fear’. The group contest that her tenure also coincided with a number of steep declines in the university’s rankings in league tables, along with a decline in the number of students applying to the university. Professor McMahon’s tenure officially ended this summer, with Professor John Grattan becoming the Acting Vice- Chancellor. Interviews for a new Vice- Chancellor are expected to be held on December 5 and 6.

Responding to Ffrindiau Pantycelyn on the subject of Professor McMahon’s farewell party, Aberystwyth University told the Herald: “When a senior member of staff leaves, it is normal practice to hold an event like this to mark the occasion and give colleagues an opportunity to bid a formal farewell. The university monitors all spend closely and these costs were in line with the institution’s guidelines.”

No photographs of the private party were available.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have changed the landscape of civil society activism across the board in the UK in recent years. We asked Friends of the Earth’s Guy Shrubsole to explain them. Guy told us that FOIs can be a powerful tool to hold government and others to account. Famously, in 2010, an MP’s expenses scandal was uncovered through an FOI request. Other examples include the FOIs that exposed Defra’s redacted shale gas report, which warned of fracking ‘industrialising the countryside’; FOIs that revealed that climate sceptic, former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson had turned down a briefing on climate science from the Met Office; FOIs showing that oil giant Exxon have been lobbying the Department for Transport against electric vehicles. After the 2015 general election, the Government set up a panel to review the FOI Act, seemingly with a view to ‘gutting it’. After a public outcry, that threat to the FOI Act receded.

However, Guy Shrubshole told us: “There are other threats to freedom of information – not least the civil service’s desire and ability to actually deliver it. Since Brexit, I’ve noticed a real slowdown in responses to my FOIs. An investigative journalist told me the same. Maybe it’s the added workload of Brexit, or maybe it’s the fact that government remains unwilling to fully embrace a culture of openness.

They maintain plenty of ‘exemptions’ to disclosing information they consider sensitive. Another threat to freedom of information may come from Brexit itself.

Thanks to the EU, since 2004, we’ve had a powerful set of Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) that allow for particular access to information on pollution, the environment and emissions. It’s unclear whether Brexit will see those regulations slashed or kept.”

NEW VC MUST SPEAK WELSH

Getting back to tensions between Aberystwyth University and Welsh-speaking students, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) are demanding that the new Vice Chancellor needs to be able to speak Welsh fluently in everyday work, and to understand the Welsh-speaking community in the university.

They contest that, although learning Welsh is a condition of appointment, April McMahon did not do so. Acting Vice Chancellor John is not fluent in Welsh. Elfed Wyn Jones, Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Pantycelyn cell, said: “The only way to ensure that the next Vice-Chancellor is fluent in Welsh is to demand that fluency in Welsh is essential when advertising the job. There is no reason why the Welsh language should not be an essential skill to this job and others.” Cymdeithas yr Iaith students are also question the cost of the recruitment process for which, they claim, Aberystwyth University are unnecessarily using a head-hunting company.

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Ceredigion Museum to Display Rare Roman Cut Glass

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A PARTNERSHIP between Ceredigion Museum and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales has attracted £1,000 funding from the Association for Roman Archaeology to display fragments of a unique Roman glass vessel, found at Abermagwr Romano-British villa.

The villa at Abermagwr was discovered during aerial photography in 2006 and excavated by Dr Jeffrey L. Davies and Dr Toby Driver between 2010 and 2015, in a volunteer-led community project. It remains the only known Roman villa in the county and the most remote Roman villa in Wales. The finds have been researched over time and the best have been put on public display at Ceredigion Museum. The finds include parts of Ceredigion’s earliest known slate roof, just one of the innovations discovered at the villa.

The most recent Roman finds handed to the museum are the cut glass fragments. The ARA grant will fund a bespoke mount, made by a museum specialist, to enable the delicate glass fragments to take pride of place in the Museum’s archaeology gallery. Roman cut glass is rare; only one cut glass beaker is on permanent display in the British Museum and the design on the Abermagwr vessel is unparalleled in Roman Britain. Professor Jennifer Price was struck by the rarity and quality of the glass vessel describing it as ‘of outstandingly high quality….[which] must have been an extraordinary item of luxury. Its quality is vastly superior to the rest of the glass vessels found at the villa’

Abermagwr Roman cut glass vessel

Prof. Barry Burnham of University Trinity Saint David, Lampeter, said “Its discovery so far west in Wales is all the more significant because it is vastly superior to the general range of glass material found anywhere in Wales. This raises interesting questions about how it came to be here, who owned it, and what it signifies in terms of social status and economic links.”

Carrie Canham, Curator, said “When I was at school we were taught that the Roman’s didn’t have a significant presence in West Wales, but local excavation results have overturned that assumption. This extraordinary object shows that the villa at Abermagwr was the home of comparatively wealthy Romans enjoying the good things in life. I’m extremely grateful to the ARA for the funding that will enable visitors to the museum to see it displayed to its best advantage.”

Councillor Catherine Hughes, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Porth Ceredigion, Early Intervention, Well-being Hubs and Culture said: “It is a delight to hear the history of the rare Roman cut glass here in Ceredigion. Thanks to Carrie and the team at Ceredigion Museum and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales for their work, and the Roman Archaeology Society. We look forward to the day when we can see the pieces in all their glory.”

The Covid-19 pandemic is delaying the work to make the mount until later in 2021. The glass fragments are too delicate to courier to the craftsperson making the mount, so he will have to come to Aberystwyth and set up a temporary workshop at the museum. Then the fragments will go straight on display.

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Conservatives in disarray over alleged Christmas party lockdown breach

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THE CONSERVATIVE Party is investigating the attendance of senior Senedd members and staff at a Christmas party held during December’s lockdown.

Lockdown restrictions prohibit mixing with people outside your own household.

The Welsh restrictions barring such gatherings follow the basic outline of those imposed by the Conservative UK Government in December.

Those attending the drinks party included Paul Smith, the Conservative Chief of Staff at the Senedd, Darren Millar, the Party’s Chief Whip and campaign coordinator, and Preseli Pembrokeshire MS and Conservative Senedd Group Leader Paul Davies.

The Herald understands that a Labour Senedd Member who attended the Party has been suspended by the Labour Senedd Group pending its own investigation.

The Conservatives’ embarrassment at talking the talk but not walking the walk is intensified by Darren Millar’s presence at the shindig.

In May, Mr Millar led calls for Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething to be sacked for eating a bag of chips in a park with one of his own children.

If the Conservative Party follows the logic of their previously stated positions, Mr Millar’s and Mr Davies’ futures look bleak indeed.

With a Senedd election only months away, the revelations have thrown the Conservatives into disarray.

If they do nothing, the Conservatives will – at the very least – face claims they are hypocrites.

If the Conservative Party acts decisively, it faces massive internal problems.

The Conservatives responded to our request for a response to our story.

Those involved stressed they did not host a Christmas Party.

The incident happened on December 8, when the above met in the members’ tea room to discuss legislation for possible inclusion in the Welsh Conservative manifesto with a Labour backbencher.

During the evening they did drink a glass or two of wine.

They stress that at no point were there more than four people in the room at any one time and that they maintained social distancing.

A joint statement from Paul Davies, Darren Millar, and Paul Smith said: “We are profoundly sorry for our actions.

“While we did not break the rules, we recognise that what was part of a day’s work would not be seen to be following the spirit of them, especially given the tough time the country has been going through.”

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Warning to drug users in Ceredigion over ‘Street Valium’

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POLICE are once again warning drug users in Ceredigion to take extra care when taking illegal prescription drugs especially when taken in conjunction with other drugs and/or alcohol. Mixing drugs, knowingly or unknowingly, can be extremely dangerous for anyone taking them.

A Dyfed-Powys Police spokesperson said: “We have reasons to believe that drug users are making use of “Street Valium” at the moment and this is very concerning as individuals just do not know what these tablets may have been combined with. Valium, also known as diazepam – is a benzodiazepine. Combining opioids and benzodiazepines is particularly dangerous because both types of drug sedate users and suppress breathing”.

“We would also appeal to drug users to seek medical attention immediately should they become unwell.

“Please share this information with anyone that you believe could come into contact with these drugs.”

To seek advice and support, visit https://barod.cymru/where-to-get-help/west-wales-services/ddas-dyfed-drug-and-alcohol-service/

Please be aware that some services may operate an automated service outside office hours.

In an emergency, or if you think someone’s life is at risk, always dial 999.

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