School funding row escalates at meeting
A war of words between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives over school funding has escalated.
Conservative county councillors have criticised newly-elected Brecon and Radnorshire MP Jane Dodds for wanting to discuss concerns about school funding with Powys County Council education chiefs.
They believe she should be asking questions of Liberal Democrat colleague and Assembly Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, Kirsty Williams.
Ms Williams is the Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government.
But Ms Dodds has now struck back, saying: “It’s disappointing Conservatives are choosing to attack me for doing what any responsible MP would do – addressing concerns raised with me about the funding of their children’s education. Powys council receives an extra £1.2 million a year thanks to Kirsty Williams’ action in Government, ensuring rural areas like ours are treated more fairly as money is sent to local councils.
“But deciding how much money goes to each school in Powys is the responsibility of the Conservative/Independent council here, and no-one else. While years of funding cuts from Westminster are putting pressure on local councils to deliver, I have real concerns about the way Powys council distributes its money to schools.”
One of Ms Williams main critics, Councillor Iain McIntosh, (Conservative – Yscir), who invited Ms Dodds to join his working group to try an get a better funding settlement for Powys from the Welsh Government, added: “I think she (Kirsty Williams, AM) should be asked what she thinks about her colleague and new MP trying to address education matters in Wales and, what is she doing to try and raise Powys from the bottom of the current council funding list?”
The row stems from figures that show some schools in Powys will not have enough money to deal with the number of children arriving in September for the new school term.
The pupil count is taken on the Friday after the October half-term holiday, which is used to calculate budgets for the following financial year.
Liberal Democrats have claimed the system is pushing schools into debt, with staff losing their jobs as they endeavour to sort their budgets out. Liberal Democrat and Green group leader, councillor James Gibson-Watt (Glasbury), added: “It appears Conservatives do not understand decisions on how much money goes to schools are taken by local authorities, not the Welsh Government.
“In Powys, it the county council’s own schools funding formula that determines the distribution to each school.
“The issue Jane has raised is one I and my council group colleagues have also raised – and is one only the council can resolve.”
Earlier this year, the funding formula was changed to try to give schools a fairer slice of the cake, providing all with cash to fund the minimum educational needs.
The Funding Review Group (FRG), which helped set the formula, had told PCC that the money it was putting into schools would be £5.5 million light of what was needed.
This came into force in April.
Head of education, Dr Alec Clark, said: “Warning notices are only issued following ongoing concerns at schools that have not submitted adequate or accurate budget recovery plans to address their ongoing deficit budgets.
“The local authority remains committed to working closely with schools and governing bodies to ensure appropriate education provision.”