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Powys schools facing financial crisis

FIVE schools in Powys have already put their hands up to ask for help with their financial budgeting for this year.

Claims have also been made by a senior councillor that secondary schools are also over £3 million in debt.

At a meeting of Powys County Council’s cabinet on Tuesday, May 9, the potential financial crisis facing schools was brought up as part of a wider discussion of the council’s strategic risk register.

In recent weeks opposition councillors have been highlighting concerns that rising energy costs, higher wages, and other increases due to the cost of living crisis have been “passed on” for schools to deal with themselves and could cost teaching jobs.

Yet, the risk that schools falling into deficit which could impact the wider council’s budget was dropped off the strategic risk register by the Liberal Democrat/Labour cabinet back in March.

Schools had been expected to submit their budget plans for the year by the beginning of May.

Cllr Aled Davies

Conservative group leader Cllr Aled Davies said: “There’s no reference to the schools budget position in the risk report.

“I consider this to be a significant risk, the secondary sector is over £3 million in debt, and it ultimately does falls on the council.”

“I’m slightly surprised it does not feature in the register unless all the high school budgets comply with the school financial scheme.”

This would mean that schools have projected a balanced budget.

He asked education portfolio holder, Liberal Democrat Cllr Pete Roberts if “that was the case”.

Cllr Pete Roberts

Cllr Roberts said: “The issue around school budgets was moved into the education department’s risk register and considered there.

“Budgets are still being developed at the moment by schools.

“At least five of our schools have requested the deep dive support that is being given by the education service to look at their budgets and the pressures and potential remedial action to help those.”

Cllr Roberts highlighted that money that had been injected into the schools base funding that allows secondary schools to employ a “cover supervisor.”

The role is to employ a teacher who will substitute and cover for any absent teachers at a school.

This would mean that a school does not need to call for a more costly supply teacher.

“This will have a significant impact on their budget in terms of removing the supply cost on them, ” said Cllr Roberts.

Finance portfolio holder, Labour’s Cllr David Thomas said that the Governance Audit committee had “initially expressed some concerns” about the school’s finance risk being deescalated and had now received more information to explain the decision.

He assured his colleagues that schools finances were being reviewed on a quarterly basis and that extra information going to the Finance Panel would allow it to “look deeper” into school budgets and provide “further scrutiny.”

Cabinet noted the risk register.

Last summer, it was predicted that Powys secondary schools would be £3.216 million in deficit by the end of March 2024 and up to £4.574 million by the end of March 2025.