‘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
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