Council leader warns of difficult decisions over school budget cuts
Rory Sheehan, local democracy reporter
Councillors have been warned that council tax may have to increase if they try to protect school budgets from cuts.
Speaking at an education scrutiny meeting, the leader of Flintshire Council Ian Roberts, said the authority is in “a tight spot” as it prepares its 2024-25 budget but pleaded with members not to be hasty when ringfencing funds at this early stage.
His comments came after members of the scrutiny committee felt more information was needed about the budgets delegated to schools but also a wish to see those budgets protected.
Cllr Roberts, a former primary school headteacher and school governor himself, said difficult decisions would need to be made.
He said: “I’ve been at the top of a primary school, I’ve been involved with governors in making the extremely difficult decisions that need to be made when budgets do need to be cut and they are extremely hard decisions for schools, headteachers and their governing bodies to actually have to make.
“Although the education department budget is the largest budget in the council the vast majority, 80, 90 per cent of that is allocated to financial decisions made by schools and made by all of the governing bodies of schools in Flintshire.
“To reduce a budget it would possibly be the longest document the council has ever seen in that it would have to include the budget for each school in the council which would be absolutely enormous.
“I agree that scrutiny is necessary on what’s left within the education department budget, that is particularly important.
“If parts of the council’s budget are safeguarded at this early stage in the budget (process) that makes the cost reductions in other parts of the budget considerably higher.”
Cllr Roberts said that by protecting the education budget this early could have an effect on the other parts of the council’s services such as the number of gulley cleansers the authority has and social services staffing.
He added that “it would be lovely to give certainty and say there will be no cuts to the school budget”, but raised the prospect of a council tax increase if this was to happen.
“We need a balanced budget”, Cllr Roberts added.
“The council tax increase is the only other place to go. Either budgets are cut or the council tax goes up.
“Whichever group we’re in, whichever party we’re in, we’re between a rock and a hard place here.
“I’ve seen how awful this is, not from a councillor going to a governors’ meeting side, but from the person who’s actually making the suggestions to the governing body.
“Decisions are immensely hard. I know for myself, other senior members and chief officers – it wakes you up at night worrying about it.
“As far as Flintshire is concerned we wish to provide the best services for people in Flintshire. Unfortunately we’re in a very, very tight spot and unless the cavalry come in at a late stage, that spot is going to get tighter and tighter as we get towards January when real decisions are made.”
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