‘IT’S NOT BLACK­MAIL, IT’S THE LEAST-WORST OP­TION OPEN TO US’

Of­fi­cers want to slash ed­u­ca­tion bud­gets – and say the only al­ter­na­tive would be to close schools

Bangor Mail - - Weekly Puzzles - Gareth Wil­liams

OF­FI­CERS have de­nied “black­mail­ing” coun­cil­lors to ac­cept ma­jor cuts to schools’ bud­gets which, a new re­port warns, could lead to job losses and harm the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion in Gwynedd.

Fac­ing a fur­ther £2m of cuts in 2020/21 fol­low­ing more than a decade of dwin­dling grants from cen­tral gov­ern­ment, mem­bers were asked to ac­cept pro­pos­als to cut school spend­ing by £728,080 as part of the coun­cil-wide cost-cut­ting ex­er­cise.

But, alarmed at the scale of the cuts, coun­cil­lors re­fused to ac­cept the rec­om­men­da­tion af­ter be­ing warned it would likely lead to a re­duc­tion in the num­ber of teach­ers and/or an­cil­lary staff, which would likely re­sult in a detri­men­tal im­pact on ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards.

The big­gest bone of con­tention among the pro­pos­als to save, pre­sented to mem­bers of Gwynedd’s Ed­u­ca­tion and Econ­omy Scru­tiny Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day, is a re­duc­tion of £463,900 by amend­ing the pupil­teacher ra­tio – the for­mula that works out how many staff pupil.

But de­spite be­ing told such a move could even­tu­ally be avoided fur­ther down the line by rais­ing coun­cil tax, or if a bet­terthan-ex­pected cen­tral gov­ern­ment set­tle­ment is reached, sev­eral mem­bers said they couldn’t sup­port any mea­sures that would weaken the county’s ed­u­ca­tional pro­vi­sion.

Cllr Gareth Jones said: “The po­ten­tial ef­fect this would have across the county scares me, to be hon­est.

“It comes across as very flip­pant and I would urge of­fi­cers to look at this again.”

But the chief ex­ec­u­tive, Dil­wyn Wil­liams, said the author­ity had lit­tle choice but to look at bud­get cuts across the board, de­spite re­peated pleas to the Welsh Gov­ern­ment for ex­tra cash.

He added: “This is a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion and I un­der­stand that.

“What the of­fi­cers have done is to come up with the least-worst pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“Other than cut­ting their bud­gets, what other op­tions do we have other than clos­ing schools? If you’re not will­ing to cut the bud­get of in­di­vid­ual schools, are you will­ing to are re­quired per con­sider that?”

But Cllr Al­wyn Gruffydd in­ter­vened, not­ing that it would have a “dev­as­tat­ing im­pact” on staff morale, and that morally he could not ac­cept such cuts.

He also ac­cused Mr Wil­liams of “black­mail­ing” coun­cil­lors – a claim the chief ex­ec­u­tive de­nied.

“The role of this com­mit­tee is to de­cide, from the op­tions pre­sented, which ones should be pre­sented to the cab­i­net for con­sid­er­a­tion,” said Mr Wil­liams. “The pro­pos­als put for­ward are those, in the view of of­fi­cers, that would have the least­worst ef­fect over­all on the chil­dren of Gwynedd.”

Cllr Cai Larsen said that, de­spite hav­ing spent the ma­jor­ity of his ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion, “with a heavy heart”, he would have to ac­cept the find­ings at this stage.

“We ob­vi­ously hope we won’t end up hav­ing to do th­ese things, but do­ing noth­ing and not putting for­ward any view what­so­ever is not re­ally an op­tion and makes the com­mit­tee look stupid,” he added.

While mem­bers de­cided not to ac­cept the rec­om­men­da­tion of the re­port, their views will be con­sid­ered when the cab­i­net de­bates the is­sue over the com­ing weeks.

● Coun­cil­lors fear cut­ting the schools bud­get would harm ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards

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