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Fear teacher redundancies likely in budget cuts in Monmouthshire

FEARS of redundancies among teachers and unqualified staff undertaking social workers’ responsibilities have been raised by councillors examining budget cuts totalling £8.4 million. 

Monmouthshire County Council is facing additional costs of £21.9m in the upcoming financial year to maintain all the services it currently provides. A  reduction in its borrowing costs and energy bills, a small increase in funding from the Welsh Government and a council tax rise of 7.5 per cent means it must find £8.4m in cuts and savings to reach a balanced budget. 

Councillor Ben Callard, the cabinet member for finance outlined its agreed 2024/25 budget proposals to the council’s people scrutiny committee and said: “There is a gap of £8.4m and that needs to be found by changing services.” 

It is intended increasing funding for schools by 2.5 per cent but the Labour councillor acknowledged: “We are aware that does not fully fund pay increases in schools for teaching and non-teaching staff and schools will feel other inflationary pressures.” 

It is also planned to increase funding for social care by 5.8 per cent and Cllr Callard, who represents Llanfoist and Govilon, said: “It sounds like a lot but is unfortunately not enough to meet increased costs and pressures.” 

Among the £4.6m savings in the social care budget is a proposal to “consolidate” existing vacancies that will include replacing social worker roles with social care assessors. 

Caldicot Labour councillor Jackie Strong said she was concerned about “replacing social workers with unqualified social care assessors”.

 She asked: “My concern is will these assessors have adequate qualifications and support to carry out that role and what impact will it have on registered, qualified social workers within the team?” 

Green Party councillor Ian Chandler, the cabinet member for social care, said Monmouthshire like other authorities has struggled to recruit social workers and said: “We’ve looked at where tasks can be undertaken by assessors and that will release social workers to concentrate on roles only they can perform.” 

Labour’s Sue Riley, who represents Bulwark and Thornwell, said the assessors earn “on average £20,000 a year less than qualified social workers” and she disputed the council is currently able to meet the demand for assessments. 

Cllr Chandler said the council is meeting its statutory obligations and Jane Rodgers, the council’s social services chief, said it currently provides long term care to 1,600 people who have all had assessments and the department is subject to external and internal monitoring. 

Conservative councillor for Llangybi Fawr Fay Bromfield said asked how £854,000 in efficiency savings being demanded of schools would impact staff and class sizes. 

Llanelly Hill independent councillor Simon Howarth said when he was a school governor pay and pension costs accounted for around 90 per cent of a school’s budget. 

He said: “The only thing I can see is to cut staff, there’s nothing left there to take away.” 

Will McLean, the chief officer for children and young people, said the percentage is “probably closer to 80 per cent. 

“But far and away it is the most significant cost. If efficiency savings are to be made it is an area all schools will have to look at. We will work hard so that all schools are supported.” 

He said the council provides support on finance, as well as issues such as human resources, so that redundancies are carried out in “as considered a way as they can be.  

“But there may well be staffing cuts in the education sector in the coming year.” 

He also said the council is making schools aware of potential negative impact on their funding due to changes in the Welsh Government funding formula. 

Cllr Martyn Groucutt, the cabinet member for education, said while the council passes on education funding how it is spent is a decision for individual schools which as a result of a Welsh Government decision must fund teachers’ pay increases themselves. 

The full council will be asked to approve the budget, when it meets in February, and the proposals are currently subject to a public consultation that closes on February 15.

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