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Breakfast clubs at Monmouthshire primary schools could be charged

FAMILIES could have to find £360 a year for just one child to attend breakfast clubs at primary schools if a price increase is agreed. 

At present the charge to attend a breakfast club in Monmouthshire is £1 a day per child but the county council’s draft budget has proposed doubling that so parents would have to find £2 a day for each child attending the before school clubs. 

The breakfast is provided for free – for all primary age children who chose to accept one under one of the Welsh Government’s longest running policies – but a charge can be made for the “childcare element” of attending the clubs held at schools before the bell rings for the start of the official school day. 

Councillor Richard John, the leader of the Conservative opposition group on Monmouthshire County Council, has warned the increase could soon rack up to hundreds of pounds for families, especially for those with more than one child attending primary school. 

“A doubling of the cost of school breakfast clubs to £2 per day is £360 a year per child,” said the Mitchell Troy and Trellech councillor. 

“Children are in school for 180 days per year, so for a family with multiple children, this could be really expensive.” 

The Labour-led cabinet has included the proposal in its draft budget which it is currently consulting on as it looks to make £8.4 million in cuts and savings in the forthcoming financial year. 

Doubling the £1 charge is intended to generate an extra £70,000 in income for the county council and it has said pupils entitled to free school meals will not have to pay the proposed £2 childcare charge. 

An impact assessment by the council has recognised the charge will have a negative socio-economic impact, disproportionately affect children and impact “national well-being goals” but says they can be managed with mitigations. 

A council report has also said without introducing a charge staff who run the clubs, and who are employed by the local authority, will be at risk of redundancy or seeing their hours cut. 

The report states: “The service acknowledges that there will be a negative impact on families who may not be able to afford the increased charges and on schools that may face a reduction in pupil numbers and staff.” 

The cabinet tried to introduce increased charges for attending school breakfast clubs in last year’s budget when it intended maintaining the £1 charge for a family’s first child but doubling it to £2 for all subsequent children which Cllr John said was “unworkable” and the plan was eventually dropped. Attendance charges for the clubs were introduced when the Conservatives controlled the council in 2019. 

Cllr John also said he was concerned at axing the £39,000 grant provided to Gwent Music for lessons in schools, though a hardship fund will be maintained, and a 10 per cent increase in concessionary school transport charges and a £70,000 cut for the Outdoor Education Centre in Gilwern and reduction in real terms funding for schools. 

Frances Taylor, the leader of the council’s independent group, has described the draft budget as presenting “a very concerning picture in terms of the pressure on school budgets and pressures in social care.” 

Cllr Ben Callard, the Labour cabinet member for finance, said the council is facing increased costs and limited funding from the Welsh Government and has sought to make up the shortfall through changes to services, increased income generation and a 7.5 increase in council tax. 

The council has also said it will continue to work with partners and support communities by providing advice and practical help for those worst hit by the cost-of-living crisis – such as community fridges, mental health support, housing and welfare advice.

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