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Caerphilly Council will work ‘closely’ with schools on funding

Caerphilly County Borough Council Offices (Pic: Google)

CAERPHILLY County Borough Council has said it will work “closely” with its schools as it anticipates a “challenging” financial picture over the next two years.

News that eight of the borough’s schools were operating with deficit balances has worried some opposition councillors, who fear the drying up of pandemic-era support could pile pressure on education services.

Council leaders are forecasting having to make nearly £50 million in savings over the next two financial years.

“Most schools are facing a difficult time financially, with the probability of a deficit budget in the next two to three years,” councillor Colin Mann, Plaid Cymru’s council finance spokesperson, said. 

“In the past it has mainly been secondary schools but now includes the majority of primary schools as well.”

Cllr Colin Mann

Cllr Mann said drops in pupil numbers were adding to schools’ woes, and “the falling birth-rate means that less and less children need places”.

“This has gone to the extreme in my own ward where pupil numbers in Cwm Glas School have fallen to such an extent that the school faces closure in one year’s time,” he said. 

“This is very sad for those of us who campaigned for the school to be established when many new houses were being built in the 1970s.”

In August, the council’s cabinet announced a general budget underspend of £8.3m as the local authority’s leaders brace themselves for a “scary” wider financial picture.

But while the council had made savings across other departments, schools spending had gone nearly £6m over budget, prompting a reduction in the schools budget from £17.2m to £11.3m as of March 31 this year.

Cllr John Roberts, also Plaid, said there had “always been concerns among schools about insufficient funding” but claimed the drying up of Covid grant support “will make the situation worse”. 

“Many schools are in a precarious position financially,” he warned, adding that “these days there seems to be an expectation for schools to do more”.

As of March this year, five primary schools and three secondary schools in the county borough have deficit balances, totalling £1.1m.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked Caerphilly council what it was doing to ensure schools would receive sufficient funding and to ensure no other schools carry forward deficit balances.

A council spokesperson said the local authority had a “strong track record of allocating funding to schools to meet their cost pressures and, for the current financial year, schools received an additional £10.2m – which is an uplift of 8.4%”.

“However, the financial outlook is extremely challenging with the council facing an anticipated savings requirement of £48.3m for the two-year period 2024/25 to 2025/26,” the spokesperson said. “Work is already underway to ensure that we can meet the needs of our communities whilst operating with reduced finances, and this is being coordinated through our Transformation and Placeshaping Investment Programmes. 

“As part of this process, we will work closely with our schools to assist them in managing the challenging financial outlook faced by all services across the council”.