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Council set to close Pupil Referral Unit to save over £600,000 over two years 

The Pupil Referral Unit in Newtown is in danger of closure due to budget cuts (Pic: Google Streetview)

POWYS County Council is set to close a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) as part of its draft budget proposals for 2024/2025 to save just over £600,000 over the next two years.

At a meeting of the council’s Cabinet on Tuesday, February 13 councillors went through recommendations on the draft budget made by scrutiny committees.

In order to balance next year’s budget, the council need to make £10.652 million in cuts, savings, and income generation.

One of the proposals is to “remodel the service delivery” for PRU’s which could save the council £352,555 for 2024/2025 and a further £251,285 for the 2025/2026.

During the last couple of weeks, the council’s scrutiny committees have gone through these proposals in detail and have produced a number of recommendations to Cabinet on what they think of the draft budget.

The report on the recommendations includes the sections that explain whether the Liberal Democrat/Labour Cabinet: “accept, partially accept or reject” the observations.

Members of the Learning and Skills scrutiny committee said that Cabinet should “re-consider” the proposal to close a PRU unit.

The committee said: “To re-consider the impact the reduction in PRU would have on school budgets and staff well-being, with learners remaining at their home school.

“And reflect on vulnerable learners having to travel long distances.”

Cabinet have responded to the comments in the report and “partially accepted” them.

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Cabinet said:  “There have been no decisions about location of a site, and the full business case is being written that will include specific figures which will include the travel arrangements.

“Realised saving would be as a result of consolidating the service onto one site and may include potential savings related to utilities, travel costs and outreach support.”

At the meeting Conservative group leader Cllr Aled Davies said: “It’s difficult for members of the public to understand what the driving issue is here.”

He asked whether closing one of the units would see more children just not being taught at all.

Cllr Davies said: “There are pupils not getting access to the PRU at the moment.

“There was a failure to describe the new model.”

Chairman of the Learning and Skills scrutiny committee, Conservative Cllr Gwynfor Thomas said: “We really did not see any evidence surrounding this – your response is that the business case is being put together.

“We didn’t know what closing one of the PRUs would mean.

“It’s very difficult for us to make any comments on whether it’s going to work when we really don’t know what’s going to happen.

“It’s very worrying we don’t know what extra pressure it will put on the schools or how that would affect the new ALN (Additional Learning Needs) strategy.

Education portfolio holder, Liberal Democrat Cllr Peter Roberts said: “The severity of problems that we face mean we have to bring things forward more rapidly.

“The PRU paper is one example.”

The draft budget will be debated and finalised at a council meeting, next Thursday, February 22.

PRU’s are small specialist schools that deal with children who need greater support than mainstream schools can provide.

Pupils attend PRU’s for a range of reasons including exclusion from mainstream school due to behavioural issues, mental health issues and illness.

Local authorities are legally obliged to offer this kind of alternative school provision and Powys has two PRU’s, one based in Newtown and the other in Brecon.