THE potential impact of a Gwent council’s expected £14.4 million funding shortfall on school budgets isn’t yet known.
This is according to the councillor responsible for ensuring Monmouthshire County Council can produce a balanced budget for the next financial year.
The Labour-led authority has started setting out its budget plans for the upcoming financial year and has warned, based on current spending and cost pressures, it expects to be £14.4 million short of what it needs to deliver and maintain services – which is likely to lead to a “radical reform” of how services are delivered.
At the ruling cabinet’s Wednesday, November 15, meeting Cllr Ben Callard was asked about the impact on school budgets by Conservative opposition leader Cllr Richard John.
The Mitchell Troy and Trellech member asked: “What reassurances can you give us school budgets will not be cut?”
Cllr Callard, who represents Llanfoist and Govilon, replied: “It is still the early stages of budget setting and too early to comment as to the outcome on school budgets and would be unfair to the process to prejudice it.”
As the Welsh Government isn’t due to announce its initial funding settlement for local government until December 20, Monmouthshire’s cabinet doesn’t plan on considering its draft budget proposals – which will set out what services are at risk of being cut or how they could change – until January.
The government has previously indicated funding for local authorities could rise by 3.1 per cent – which would give Monmouthshire an extra £3.8 million on the basic £122.675 million it received from Cardiff to deliver services this year. But there is no guarantee it will see an increase and any additional funding is likely to depend on if extra money is made available for Wales from the chancellor’s autumn statement on November 22.
The report setting out the financial situation presented by Cllr Callard shows uncertainty over whether the Welsh Government will fully fund pay rises for teachers means £1.6 million must be put aside to cover that.
Cllr Callard also said, in response to a question from Independent Group leader Cllr Frances Taylor, he would “like” to produce a balanced budget without use of reserves.
The council is set to use £8.5 million from reserves this year to support it current budget but the report warned: “The 2024/25 budget will need to be set with minimal recourse to reserves.”
On a potential council tax rise, Cllr Callard repeated his report stated it would be set with consideration to its affordability and the current modelling, used for financial planning, is a 5.2 per cent increase.
He also said he “completely understood” concerns about the cost-of-living with the budget plan also intending to raise charges, which are worth £24 million to the council this year.
The cabinet has also said it will set the budget in line with its community and corporate plan “with reducing the impact of inequality on citizens and climate change on communities being central to all considerations.”
Cllr John said education was ranked as the lowest priority in the corporate plan but Cllr Callard said the six themes – of fairness, an improved environment, vibrant and safe communities that are connected and where people can reach their potential through learning – are “not listed in order, all six are our priorities.”
Council leader Mary Ann Brocklesby said the report was about showing how the council intends setting a balanced budget.
The Llanelly Hill councillor said: “No decisions are being made at this stage, it is laying out our approach.”