Education Budgets

2. Questions to the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language – in the Senedd at on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative

(Translated)

8. What discussions has the Minister had with Conwy County Borough Council regarding the education cuts proposed by its cabinet? OQ60686

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour 3:09, 21 February 2024

It is vital that communication channels are active, especially during financially challenging times. I engage closely with local government on budget issues and meet leaders through the finance sub-group and other groups, as appropriate. I also visit schools to listen first-hand to the funding experiences of headteachers. 

(Translated)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative 3:10, 21 February 2024

Thank you. As a result of this Welsh Government's very poor settlement to Conwy County Borough Council, they now sit in a £25 million hole and are planning to hike up council tax by as much, possibly, as 11 per cent. It was the highest at 9.9 per cent last year. Now, you'll be aware that a number of headteachers have written in asking for our support—how we can allow these education cuts to go ahead. Now, writing in—a story from one of my constituents stuck out to me, and it said that a 16-year-old girl tried to take her own life due to her terrible mental health. She explains that, if it were not for the pastoral service provided by the school, she wouldn't have been able to carry on much longer. I've spoken to a headteacher this morning and he said now that, with the extra curriculum, with all the other things that are coming forward, regulations and where you're putting burdens on their shoulders, they are simply running out of money at a fair rate. These cuts will jeopardise these vital services. What will you do to address with your own Cabinet these cuts and ensure that a better funding settlement comes forward to Conwy County Borough Council? Diolch.

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour 3:11, 21 February 2024

I thank Janet Finch-Saunders for the question. We've prioritised protecting core front-line public services, including schools, through protecting the indicative rise, which we indicated to local government, of 3.1 per cent overall. She will know that, in particular, in the case of Conwy and a small number of local authorities, the Government provided additional funding—in Conwy's case, of £1.3 million—to ensure that no authority will receive less than a 2 per cent increase, thereby introducing an effective floor this year, given the effect of the allocation and the formula that would otherwise have meant that that 2 per cent level had been breached. 

The 2024-25 final settlement will be published on 27 February, and this will include additional funding recently announced, following the UK Government's announcement, which has led to a consequential allocation of around £25 million to Wales. This is being allocated to local government in full, with part of the funding being used to restore the social care workforce grant and the remainder being allocated to the revenue support grant as part of the settlement, which will then enable councils to support those pressures, both in social care and in education. 

I will just remind her, though, that even in times when the Welsh Government has protected entirely local authority budgets, Conwy under the previous Conservative administration actually cut school budgets by over 3 per cent. And if she doesn't take my word for it, she can ask her colleague behind her, who was the leader at the time that that happened.