December 2000

The long-running case of Marjorie Evans, headteacher of St Mary's Junior School, Caldicot, took several new turns during December.
At the start of the month, County Councillor Graham Powell was removed from the school's governing body following a ruling by a disciplinary panel composed of senior councillors. Councillor Powell was accused of making abusive accusations against council officers at a governor's meeting. Councillor Powell has been outspoken in his support of Mrs Evans, although other supporters of Mrs Evans on the governing body are understood to be unhappy with his confrontational style, believing this to be unhelpful in a delicate situation.
Councillor Powell has claimed that there is a "witch-hunt" to remove him and Mrs Evans in order to pave the way for the closure of the school so that it can be replaced by a Welsh medium school. The claim has been hotly denied by the Director of Education, Mr Phil Cooke.
Mr Cooke also denied suggestions that the county council was negotiating an early retirement package for Mrs Evans as a means of allowing the whole matter to be quietly dropped. In spite of Mrs Evans' acquittal on charges of slapping a pupil, the governing body accepted a recommendation from Mr Cooke that a special panel be set up to investigate problems at the school. Governors had been presented with a series of reports drawn up by the police and local education authority, which were subsequently leaked to the South Wales Argus. The reports allege that "in excess of fifteen incidents have been identified involving Mrs Evans. These incidents range from inappropriate behaviour to that which can only be described as gross misconduct".
In the meantime, Mrs Evans has been officially on leave, her suspension having been lifted in November. Mrs Evans has frequently stated that she was determined to return to the school and dramatically announced that she would be in school on 22nd December, the last day of the school term but backed down when the Chairman of the Governors, backed by the local education authority, responded by stating that if she attended school she would be suspended.

Fears that Llanwern Steelworks, one of Caldicot's major employers, will face more heavy job losses, or even complete closure, continue to grow. Llanwern workers have been particularly disturbed by the decision by Corus Steel to "review" its plans to invest 35 million in lining the plant's Number Three furnace. Local M.P. Alan Howarth has warned that closure of the plant would "wreak devastation" in Gwent. He has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, and to Welsh Assembly First Secretary, Rhodri Morgan, to express his concern. Sir Brian Moffat, Chairman of Corus Steel, is expected to make a new statement about the future of the plant in the new year.

Monmouthshire County Council has decided to open a Welsh medium primary school in South Monmouthshire. As a temporary measure the school, due to open in September 2001, will be housed at Sudbrook Primary School, which will close in the summer when its pupils are transferred to a new school at Portskewett. Although facilities at Sudbrook are recognised as being sub-standard, campaigners have welcomed the move. At present, primary-aged children from the Caldicot area go to Newport for Welsh medium education. Parents feared that if the Newport school became full, pupils from Monmouthshire would no longer be accepted, making the long journey to the Welsh-school at Abergavenny.

A survey commissioned by Monmouthshire County Council has backed local residents' calls for a new food store in Caldicot. Since the closure of the Kwik Save store in 1999, Somerfield's have enjoyed a local monopoly, prompting complaints of high prices and lack of choice. The survey into retail shopping habits found that people in the Caldicot catchment area spent 26 million a year on groceries, but that many do their weekly shopping in Chepstow, Newport or elsewhere. It recommended the establishment of a food store on a four acre site close to the town centre so that customers drawn to the store would also spend money in the town's other shops. Two sites have been suggested. The favoured site is on the King George VI Playing Fields. However, this land is held in trust and plans to build on it are likely to be met with strong objections. The other site is on part of the grounds of Caldicot Comprehensive School. It is understood that companies like Tesco and Sainsbury are interested and may be willing to pay 1 million per acre for land.
Representatives of the town council, county council and Chamber of Trade have formed the Caldicot Regeneration Group to promote the development of the town centre and other improvements to the town. They will be meeting at the town's choir hall at 7pm on 3rd January to discuss the proposals.

Gwent billionaire Terry Matthews, co-founder of Mitel, has bought back half the company. He has purchased the switchgear section, which employs 665 people at Mitel's Caldicot plant. The move has been welcomed by local workers, who believe that Mr Matthews' commitment to the company will improve job security. Following the deal, Mr Matthews announced that he would be putting 15 million a year into Mitel's research programme in an effort to launch a new generation of internet-based products.

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