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Powys: Scepticism that £1.7 million education and school budget savings can be made

COUNCILLORS are sceptical that savings and cuts to budgets that fund schools and Powys County Council’s education department can actually be made.

The draft council budget will see an extra of £4.5 million given directly to schools with a further £1.1 million for the education department.
Portfolio holder for finance, Cllr David Thomas (Labour) has said that he intends passing on all of the additional education funding included in the settlement from the Welsh Government
But the sector also need to make cuts and savings as part of the council’s overall drive to find £16.45 million to bridge its funding gap for 2023/2024.

At a meeting of the council’s Learning and Skills scrutiny committee on Monday, January 30 councillors went through the a raft of savings proposals worth over £1.7 million proposed by the education department.
One of the main proposals put forward by the department is that school save just over £864,000 by switching off lights, lowering the heating levels, turning off laptops and other devices as well as “ceasing photocopying.”

Cllr Gareth Jones

Cllr Gareth Jones (Independent) asked for clarification on the proposal.
Cllr Jones said: “Are we having no more photocopying in our schools.”

Head of education Georgie Bevan explained that these savings were suggestions to schools.
Ms Bevan said: “What we have done is provide examples of  savings that have been made in other areas.
“Those figures are for best practice – and we have modelled that saving.
“There are schools already doing this, but it’s a school by school decision.
“It’s a school’s choice how much budget they allocate to photocopying.”

Cllr Lucy Roberts

Cllr Lucy Roberts (Conservative) : “It bothers me that we’re saying that these changes across the board are going to be saving us money when the reality is it won’t be possible and the savings will need to be made elsewhere.”
Ms Bevan reassured the committee members that the department had looked at: “everything in detail,” before putting their proposals forward.
“We have made sure that the potential savings fit the need and the future of the service,” said Ms Bevan.

Finance portfolio holder Cllr David Thomas defended the budget and challenged opposition members to come up with a better one.
Cllr Thomas said: “It’s fine to criticise things but at the same time it’s helpful to put suggestions forward.
“I’m proud of this budget under the circumstances because the pressures we have had to absorb, the challenges we faced are unprecedented.”

Conservative group leader, Cllr Aled Davies said: “It’s make do and mend we’ll get through it somehow budget.”

Cllr Gwynfor Thomas

Committee chairman Cllr Gwynfor Thomas (Conservative) said: “I’m concerned at the savings, I’m not sure they can be met, especially in relation to energy, if those are not met, it puts pressure on school reserves.”
From a political perspective, Cllr Thomas said that he found the budget had been “quite boring” and had wanted to see more excitement about school “transformation” in the proposals.
“Our new cabinet said that wanted to do things differently I’m not seeing that,” said Cllr Thomas.

The committee recommendations will feed into the debate around the budget which will be discussed at a full council meeting on February 23.