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Monmouthshire Council set to withdraw financial support for school music service

CHILDREN receiving music lessons in schools are those whose parents can already afford to pay – the councillor cutting funding has said. 

Monmouthshire County Council intends withdrawing the remaining £39,000 subsidy it provides to the Gwent Music Service from April as part of the £8.4 million in cuts and savings it must make in the new financial year. 

In 2022/23 the council provided the service with £100,000 which it planned to cut entirely last year before agreeing the £39,000 sum as one of a number of last minute concessions the then-minority Labour administration made to get its budget for the current year passed last March. 

The council, which has received a below inflation 2.3 per cent increase in its funding this year, which is a real terms cut, is the only remaining unitary authority providing a subsidy to the Gwent Music Service that has taught children across the area to sing and play instruments for more than 50 years. 

Councillor Ben Callard, the Labour cabinet member for finance, said, in response to comments from councillors on the performance scrutiny committee, he recognised the importance of music and that he had benefitted from the service as a schoolboy. 

He said of the withdrawal of the council funding: “This doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for children to learn music but their parents will obviously have to pay. It’s very unfortunate you do need a very small group size to provide good education (in music). 

“It does feel it is an inequality in the system and, to put it bluntly, most kids who have music lessons can do so because their parents can afford it, I’m sure there would be more if their parents could too.” 

Will McLean, the council’s chief officer for children and young people, said the £39,000 has allowed Gwent Music to continue to provide class-based lessons for all pupils. 

Individual lessons, which parents have to pay for, will continue as they aren’t dependent on that council funding but it will provide a £9,000 hardship fund to support lessons for hard-up youngsters. 

Mr McLean said schools make the council aware of pupils they believe could benefit from the support of the fund. 

He also said the council passes on some £100,000 a year from the Welsh Government’s music service to Gwent Music and it eligible for other grants. 

He said schools can also chose to use their own budgets to pay Gwent Music to provide lessons but he recognised school budgets are “under pressure” with the council expecting them to find £835,000 in savings in the coming financial year. 

He also said he could hold talks with Gwent Music about how the loss of funding from the other councils in the area it had impacted it, in response to concerns from councillors.