Council's education chief avoids vote of confidence after four-day week row

A council's under-fire education chief has narrowly avoided facing a no confidence vote in the ongoing row about the possibility of schools moving to a four-day week.

Councillor Pete Roberts
Councillor Pete Roberts

The Conservative group leader on Powys County Council called for a vote over the future of Councillor Pete Roberts, the cabinet member for education.

At a Powys County Council meeting on Thursday a notice of motion to ensure schools in the county do not move to a four-day week was debated.

In October it was revealed that being taught online for one day a week was amongst a number of ideas for Powys schools to consider to help deal with spiralling energy costs.

The move was defended by the administration as something that could be done in “extreme circumstances”.

In November, an intervention from the Welsh Government saw the council change its position and say that the four-day school week option had been “removed.”

Plaid Cymru councillor Elwyn Vaughan who proposed the motion, believed it was still worth debating even after the council’s U-turn.

He said: “It is important that the council in its entirety give their opinion, a lot of parents were worried at this suggestion.”

Conservative group leader, Councillor Aled Davies said: “The more I think about it, the worse it gets.

“I’m an LEA (Local Education Authority) governor, almost everyone in this room is.

“We have to go to schools sit in meetings and say the council line.”

He said that other school governors had told him at meetings that the four day a week suggestion was “ridiculous” and as the council’s representative he was supposed to “try and defend” it.

Councillor Davies said he wanted a vote over the future of cabinet member for education, Councillor Pete Roberts.

“I have no confidence in the portfolio holder, it is a succession of dismal decisions over the last six months," said Councillor Davies.

“I want an amendment to say that council doesn’t have any confidence in the member for education.”

Council vice-chairman, Councillor Beverley Baynham believed this to be a “major amendment” and would not allow it to be added.

Head of legal and democratic services Clive Pinney also told councillors that membership of the cabinet is only a decision for council leader Councillor James Gibson-Watt to make.

Councillor Davies said: “When you talk to councillors, they are so disillusioned with the direction of education.”

He then asked to suspend standing orders to negate the major/minor amendment issue and allow a no confidence motion to be voted on.

Suspending standing orders was supported by Councillor Iain McIntosh and a vote to allow this to take place was held.

If a vote to suspend the standing orders was successful Mr Pinney advised adjourning the meeting to allow Councillor Roberts time to get his “thoughts together in order to defend himself.”

However, the vote to suspend the standing orders was lost, with 23 councillors voting for, 29 against and four abstentions.

Earlier, finance portfolio holder Councillor David Thomas told councillors “for clarity” that the four-day week advice had not been “part of proposals” for next year’s budget.

Education portfolio holder Councillor Roberts said: “The four-day week was put forward as something schools could consider as an extreme measure if they were having extreme financial difficulty.

“We’ve had clarification on our budget position, as a result we’ve withdrawn the suggestion as we believe it’s both unnecessary and impractical at this time.”

Councillors then went on to vote for Councillor Vaughan’s original motion.

This was approved, with 55 votes in favour and one abstention.

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