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Education Pembrokeshire

Councillors concerned as cost of new Welsh Medium school rises to £14m

THE NEW Welsh Medium School in Pembroke is set to cost almost £14m.

Described as a project of ‘significant importance’, Pembrokeshire County Council obtained funding of £5.6m from the Welsh Government, for its delivery.

However, the cost of the project has since risen to £13,985,818.

Cabinet met on Monday, October 17, and were asked to support the increased cost.

One Cabinet member said she was ‘extremely concerned’ about the rise but councillors were told that if they chose to delay the project, other projects, such as one in Portfield, could also be hindered.

Other members added that they had a ‘heavy heart’ when making the decision to support the increased costs of the new school, named as Ysgol Bro Penfro.

Council Leader David Simpson said that it felt as if they were ‘being held to ransom’ but added that the consequences of stalling it could lead to far greater costs.

He went on to say that the site selected for the new school, on land south of Ysgol Harri Tudur, was ‘really bad’ but that the decision had been made.

There had been an uplift in the grant from Welsh Government to £9m but this still leaves the Council with a shortfall of £4.5m.

There was an underspend of £1.25m on Ysgol Caer Elen and it was suggested that Council could use this money to make up some of the shortfall.

That, however, would need to be approved by the Welsh Government.

The Minister for Education has also said that no additional funding will be available.Cllr Tessa Hodgson said: “I am extremely concerned in how this cost has escalated, this is not the end of the story. There is a huge likelihood costs will be increased further. What if it gets to £20m? Are we still happy to approve that?”

Cllr Hodgson also added that there were 17 schools in need of major repairs and that they were being asked to ‘magic up £3m’ when those others were in ‘such a poor state’.

She said the council should suspend the project.

The new school project is separated from the Council’s Band B funding but the Welsh Government has said they will not look at any Band B projects, which includes Portfield and two schools in Milford, until they give a commitment to the one in Pembroke.

Cllr Alec Cormack said he would second the motion ‘with a heavy heart’ adding: “I feel we have been pressured unreasonably into making this decision by linking them with other projects.”

He also said he was concerned that they were being asked to make a decision in advance of hearing back from the contractors on the final price.”

Chief Officer Darren Thomas said the revised price would be coming on October 28 and added that once the contract was signed on Haverfordwest High there was no increase and that school was delivered on budget.

Cllr Hodgson said they were effectively paying £5m for their ‘poor site selection’ adding it wouldn’t have taken much for them to see it was steep and that access was difficult.

She went on to say that the contractor had them ‘over a barrel’ and that they could come back with any price.

Darren Thomas responded saying they would see all the pricing.

When it was put to a vote, there were five votes in favour while Cllr Hodgson voted against and Cllr Jon Harvey abstained.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Jacob Williams told the Herald: “I watched the webcast of this week’s extraordinary cabinet debate on this and my first thought was how it should have been a matter for full council to decide. When full council gave the green light to Ysgol Bro Penfro in October 2020 we were told categorically that the project was 100% grant-funded, and we supported it accordingly.

“I was therefore struck by how readily the cabinet on Monday overruled that, by going along with the idea that PCC has no option but to stump up £3 million from council funds to amke up the claimed shortfall.

“Even if it is true that the cost of the new school has doubled as the contractor claims, the council’s finances are already stretched.

“I was encouraged to see Cllr Tessa Hodgson putting up some resistance before voting against it at cabinet – so I hope the education scrutiny committee will now probe all the circumstances and consider all of the options that are available.”

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