To consider the report of the Corporate
Director Regeneration and Community Services and the Interim
Corporate Director Education.
Consideration was given to the joint report of the Corporate Director Regeneration and Community Services and the Interim Corporate Director Education.
The Corporate Director Regeneration and Community Services informed that the purpose of the report was to update Members on the outcome of the review carried out by Integrated Water Services (IWS) in light of the water quality issues experienced in our schools during the period of closure due to COVID-19.
The Corporate Director felt that the Council had taken a pro-active and comprehensive approach to the reopening of schools from a Health and Safety perspective, including water testing in accordance with the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) L8 and Health & Safety Executive (HSE) specific advice. The safety of the children and staff across all school sites was a priority to the Council.
The Corporate Director continued that normally schools are only closed for a period of five to six weeks during the summer holidays. This period of school closures was unprecedented and lessons had been learned for the future across the school estate.
The Corporate Director advised that Integrated Water Services (IWS) was the firm appointed to undertake the review. The scope of the review included selecting 12 school sites from the 29 schools sites in the Borough. The Corporate Director noted the schools as detailed in the report and referred the Executive to the key recommendations identified by IWS. The Review findings are shared in full as part of the appendices and nothing identified within the review demonstrated that the Council did anything to put the pupils and staff at risk. The Council accepted the criticism in the Review and an action plan have been produced.
The Executive Member for Environment added that although this matter was specific to schools it was an issue that related to all Council buildings. The review had been requested by the Executive Member and the findings are attached in its entirety in order for the Council to learn from the exercise.
The Education Transformation Manager concurred that the Council faced unprecedented times and challenges. The Council was compliant with the Approved Code of Practice L8 and had been monitoring maintenance and testing regimes throughout the emergency response period. The work undertaken was a good example of strong partnership working with issues responded to in a timely and effective manner. As result, the schools were well informed and supported with no illnesses resulting from the water quality issues in schools, and minimal disruption to our schools, all of whom were able to open to learners during the summer-term. All relevant officers worked tirelessly to address the water testing outcomes and will take on board the recommendations going forward.
The Executive Member for Education welcomed the opportunity to develop the processes in place. She concurred that the Council had been over cautious to ensure the safety of our pupils and school staff which demonstrated that their wellbeing was at the forefront of the Council.
The Executive Member for Regeneration and Economic Development added that Blaenau Gwent was not unique in these findings. As an Authority we are in unprecedented times and were unaware that schools would be closed for such a long period of time. The work required was identified and carried out quickly with no safeguarding issues due to the health and safety issues. The schools were able to open as departments worked together for the benefit of our children.
The Leader reiterated that this Executive had asked for the review to be undertaken and it had been presented in an open and transparent nature. The Leader stated that in previous years this review would not have been presented, however it was important for everyone to have sight of the information and understand that the criticisms had been addressed by ensuring the appropriate processes was in place going forward. The Leader concurred that Blaenau Gwent was not unique in these matters but both politically and professionally it was felt that the Council needed to be transparent with this review.
In response a question raised in relation to discussions at the Special Community Services Scrutiny Committee, it was informed that the review caused a great deal of debate, however the report and action plan had been accepted with an additional recommendation raised for the Executive’s consideration. It was proposed that the Action Plan detailed in Appendix 3 be applied across all Council buildings in respect of Health and Safety being a Corporate responsibility and the Policy be presented to the appropriate Scrutiny Committee to be considered accordingly prior to any changes being approved by full Council.
The Leader and the Executive welcomed the recommendation and it was agreed to be included in the recommendation.
The Leader wished to thank all officers involved in the water testing exercise and the safe reopening of schools. There was a great deal of work undertaken during that time and this seems to have been forgotten in some quarters. However, the Leader wished to pass thanks on behalf of the Executive on the work carried out as staff worked above and beyond the normal working day.
RESOLVED, subject to the foregoing that the report be accepted and Option 2 be approved to implement appropriate review changes, particularly in light that Covid19 which was still prevalent within the Country, and localised lockdowns may result in school full or partial closures, which could result in further water quality issues.