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Powys councillors row over proposal to close Newtown’s pupil referral unit

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

A POLITICIAN’S suggestion that Newtown’s pupil referral unit is set to close was ‘taken out of context’, the would-be MP insists.

The fate of the PRUs has been a hot topic in recent weeks.

This is because proposals to close a PRU in Powys to save £600,000 over two years are part of this year’s council budget.

At the Powys County Council meeting to set the 2024/2025 budget back in February it was agreed that the council need to make £10.652 million in cuts, savings, and income generation to balance the books.

Remodelling PRUs is estimated to save the council £325,555 this year and £251,285 next year.

Conservative county councillor for Newtown West, Cllr Lewington claims that Liberal Democrat county councillor for Llanidloes, Cllr Glyn Preston has let slip that Brecon PRU will be kept while he was out canvassing in Newtown.

Cllr Preston is the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary candidate for the Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr constituency at the next general election.

Cllr Lewington said: “I am totally outraged that Cllr Preston has made such an ill-judged statement without checking his facts or thinking through the impact of such a statement on our residents.

“Following this shocking statement residents are now telling me that they believe that the Newtown PRU will be closed.

“I am deeply concerned that Cllr Preston has potentially breached confidentiality on this matter or may have divulged privileged information.”

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Cllr Lewington says that he has “raised concerns” with the council leader Liberal Democrat Cllr James Gibson-Watt as well as chief executive, Emma Palmer over the issue.

Cllr Pete Lewington – Powys County Council 2022

In response to the accusation, Cllr Preston said: “It’s disappointing that this conversation has been taken out of context, and that Cllr Lewington and the Conservatives are intent on playing party politics at every opportunity.

“Whilst out speaking to residents on Saturday, a resident raised with me the speculation in the media regarding the potential closure of the Newtown PRU.

“I did my level best to engage with them on this topic, and chat through some of the potential changes to the PRU service that I could imagine happening.

“I am not a decision-maker and have not been involved in any discussions regarding the rationalisation of the PRU service.”

Cllr Glyn Preston (Pic: Powys County Council)

Concerns were raised before Easter that the council has not produced any concrete plans around the PRU’s future despite the potential cuts floating around since January when draft budget proposals were first unveiled.

The council has said that a “full business case” is being prepared on the PRUs.

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

Pupils attend PRUs 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.