Is the schools transformation strategy affordable?

Calls have been made for Powys’ 10-year school transformation programme to be assessed independently because of doubts over its financial viability.

Chairman of Powys County Council\'s Audit Committee, Councillor John Morris.
Chairman of Powys County Council\'s Audit Committee, Councillor John Morris.

Several new school buildings could be constructed over the next decade, as part of a strategy agreed last year.

The expectation is that the Welsh Government’s 21st century schools fund would pick up 65 per cent of the tab, leaving Powys Council to fund the remaining 35 per cent.

At a finance panel meeting on Friday, January 29, the affordability of the strategy was questioned.

Panel chairman and independent member, John Brautigam, explained that documentation which went to the cabinet in September showed that the future waves of school buildings would cost about £300 million.

Mr Brautigam calculated that Powys County Council would need to pay £105 million, and that the costs could massively escalate if school buildings are financed by loans.

Mr Brautigam, said: “The repayments (by 2030) would be £26 million, we’re coming up to £435 per household each year which is £9 a week, these figures are enormous.

“Does it make sense to put a 10-year plan together when you have a £300 million hole in it?”

Finance portfolio holder Councillor Aled Davies said: “The way the capital programme will be supported has not been decided yet.

“It’s only projects that have a business case agreed that come on to the 10-year plan.”

Whether the finance is found from the Public Works Loan Board or from money markets would be decided at that stage.

“The cabinet is concerned about affordability which is why a sound business case is essential,” stressed Councillor Davies.

Head of finance Jane Thomas said: “There needs to be a lot of work on the detail, we need to consider how and what is the best means of funding it.

“You have to know where you would like to be, and then plan how you will finance it.

“You proceed with choices, and the impact that has on services and the council tax, everything has to be looked at.”

She also warned that there was also the “cost of not doing anything”.

Audit committee chairman Cllr John Morris (Crickhowell – Liberal Democrat) said: “The council is telling the public that we have this vast capital spend on schools which sounds great, but what they don’t tell them is how it’s going to be paid for.

“I’m not convinced we will be able to pay for it.”

Cllr Morris added: “This probably needs an external assessment to look at it’s viability.”

Cllr Morris pointed out that school transformation was being pushed forward during the pandemic with the council running in business critical mode.

“You’re not allowing adequate scrutiny of the programme,” said Cllr Morris.

Cllr Davies said: “Every project has to be looked at on it’s own merits, and affordability is key, it’s important that our children have a suitable environment for their education.”

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