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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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Man arrested for illegal fishing in Teifi valley

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A MAN has been arrested after environmental crime officers from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) spotted an illegal net in a mid-Wales river.

The officers were conducting a routine patrol of the River Teifi on Thursday (May 14) when they came across a net in the water.

Following an investigation carried out in partnership with Dyfed Powys Police, a man was arrested on suspicion of illegal fisheries offences in the Teifi valley.

At the scene, officers retrieved the net which contained seven dead sea trout.

David Lee, NRW’s North and Mid Wales Operations Team Leader, said:

“Thanks to the excellent work of our officers and Dyfed Powys Police we were able to prevent further damage to the Teifi sea trout population.

“We take any activity that threatens sea trout and salmon extremely seriously and this is especially true of illegal fishing.

“Nets can potentially capture large numbers of fish and given the current challenges facing stock numbers currently every sea trout or salmon taken represents another blow to our efforts to protect these iconic fish.”

Despite the current Coronavirus lockdown, NRW officers are continuing to patrol Welsh rivers and people are encouraged to check that fish they buy locally – particularly through social media – are from a legitimate source.

If you see any suspicious or illegal activity on our rivers please report it to the NRW incident hotline on 0300 065 3000.

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Mother-daughter foot patrol brings 30 year career to a poignant end for Chief Inspector

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AS Chief Inspector Nicky Carter ended a 30 year career in policing, there was no better way to do it than going out on patrol with her daughter.

And for PCSO Charlotte, taking to the streets of Lampeter with her mum was a fitting way to mark her first six months at Dyfed-Powys Police.

Patrolling together in uniform was something the mother-daughter pair had long imagined, with PCSO Carter wanting to join the police from a young age.

The 19-year-old said: “I joined in September 2019, and have wanted to be a part of Dyfed-Powys Police since I can remember. I was inspired by my mum working in the force, and thought it would be a great career.

“I’m really glad I joined before she retired, as it gave us the opportunity to go out on foot patrol in the town where mum had been the local Inspector. It was really lovely.”

Embarking on a career she’d planned since childhood, PCSO Carter took the chance to gain valuable advice from her mum – whose experiences on the frontline inspired her to join.

“Mum has told me to always treat people as I would wish to be treated,” she said. “That’s something I’ll take forward with me.”

“I’m six months in now, and I enjoy dealing with the public and offering reassurance to people in the communities of Lampeter town and surrounding areas.”

For former CI Carter, the foot patrol drew a 30-year career – starting at North Wales Police – to a poignant close.

She ended her time at Dyfed-Powys Police in her home division of Ceredigion, transferring to Aberystwyth in 2006 to take up an inspector post.

Despite admitting there will be concerns for her only child as policing inevitably comes with risks, it was a career she encouraged.

She said: “I was very proud of Charlotte wishing to join Dyfed-Powys. As I retire I still consider that policing offers tremendous job satisfaction and I know that the organisation looks after and cares for its staff.

“I encouraged her to find out about the PCSO role before she applied, and also encouraged her to attend an open evening in Ceredigion to speak to staff. I wanted her to make an informed decision to join the organisation.

“As a parent and a former officer, it is natural to be concerned about what may occur when Charlotte is at work. However, the training, mentoring and support from staff and supervisors is second to none, so that offers me reassurance.”

Looking back at 30 years in policing, CI Carter has achieved plenty to inspire her daughter – and other women thinking of joining. From being a founding member of female networks in two forces, and a committee member of the British Association of Women in Policing, she has also proudly contributed to local and national work to ensure all staff reach their full potential.

She was humbled to receive a leadership award from Chwarae Teg in 2017, and represented chief officers at the International Association of Women Police awards in Alaska in 2019, where two Ceredigion officers were rewarded for their bravery.

When it comes to passing on her wealth of experience to her daughter, the former CI urged her to always consider her own wellbeing as well as that of the community.

“The most important advice I have given Charlotte is to look after herself and her wellbeing as whilst policing is a very rewarding role, it is one that can be both challenging and stressful at times,” she said.

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Ben Lake MP “disappointed” after Agriculture Bill amendment on the standard of food and agricultural imports is rejected by House of Commons

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The UK’s new Agriculture Bill was put before MPs on Wednesday (13 May) for the final time as it reached the Report Stage and Third Reading.

Alongside farming unions and campaign groups, Ben Lake MP has lobbied for the Bill to include a number of important amendments. One of the amendments sought to introduce a legal requirement that agricultural or food products imported into the UK under future trade agreements would need to be produced or processed according to equivalent animal health, welfare and environmental standards as those required of UK prodcuers.

This amendment, in the form of New Clause 2, and which was tabled by the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Neil Parish MP, was rejected by the Commons. All Plaid Cymru MPs supported the amendment and Ben Lake MP said he was “disappointed” that the house did not vote in favour of an amendment to prevent the importation of products produced to lower animal health and environmental standards, and which in turn would have supported the high standards of Welsh produce.

Ben Lake MP said:

“Without this amendment there remains no legal requirement for future UK trade agreements to ensure that any agricultural or food imports are produced to the same standards as those required of domestic producers.

“Farmers in Wales strive to produce quality food in a sustainable manner, but the failure to include this amendment to the Agriculture Bill risks undermining these efforts by keeping the door open to imports produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards.

“I have always argued that in order to protect our own high standards it is crucial that a level playing-field is maintained in relation to imports, and that farmers in Wales are not put at a disadvantage by having to compete with imports that are produced to lower standards. I sincerely hope that this amendment will be adopted by the House of Lords, so that the House of Commons has another opportunity to support it.”

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