Crisis hit secondary school grappling with financial problems
Elgan Hearn LDRS Reporter
A headteacher from a crisis-hit Powys secondary school which is in Estyn special measures has detailed the school’s current financial problems.
At a meeting of Powys County Council’s Governance and Audit committee on Friday 24 November, a report from internal auditors SWAP on the situation at Brecon High School was received by members.
SWAP assistant director, Ian Halstead told the committee that it was the third time that internal auditors have been at the school during the last five years.
Situation worsened significantly
The new £22 million school building was opened in 2019 and data shows that there were 549 pupils at the school and 211 spare spaces earlier this year.
Mr Halstead explained in the past the school had been in a £900,000 budget deficit and had expected their finances to be showing surplus position by now. But the situation has worsened significantly.
Mr Halstead said: “There’s a deficit of £1.47 million for the end of 2022/2023, it could grow to £1.7 million, but there is a reduction to a £1.29 million deficit going on to 2027/2028.”
He continued: “We’ve had those assurances before and they have not been delivered.”
He believed that it’s important to “solidify” these plans and ensure they are “reasonable and deliverable.”
“There is a willingness in this school to improve this area without doubt,” said Mr Halstead.
Headteacher Richard Jenkins said: “We have been trying to project an in-year surplus position for a while and have been successful at times over the last five years.”
He added: “We are trying to be as accurate and robust as we can with our projections and predict in year surpluses for 2025/2026 and 2026/2027.”
Finance Panel chairman and leader of the Powys Conservative group Cllr Aled Davies said: “I don’t envy the position of the senior management team in Brecon – they inherited a difficult circumstance with a large deficit that’s been there for some time.”
Cllr Davies pointed out that the overall deficit would stay “roughly the same” by the end of 2027/2028 and asked what action was being taken to balance the budgets “in-year.”
Mr Jenkins said that trying to clear the deficit in one go would have been “complicated” and lead to “bigger class sizes” less subject choice as teachers would have been made redundant.
This drastic action was not “considered suitable,” he explained.
Mr Jenkins told the committee that a plan to address the deficit over a three year period had been adopted.
This plan was about “taking advantage” of changes – such as moving to a new school building in 2019 and then not filling posts after staff retirements.
But this plan had been affected by sky rocketing utility costs as Mr Jenkins said that the school’s electricity bill had gone up this year by 159 per cent and gas by 172 per cent.
This had caused huge problems as the school doesn’t have a “buffer or money to absorb the costs,” said Mr Jenkins.
SWAP auditors will return to the school in future to see how delivery of the financial plan is working and report back to the committee.
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