Former Minister calls for changes to Welsh Government funding for local authorities
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
The former Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns has called for changes to the formula the Welsh Government uses to fund local authorities.
Mr Cairns also failed to commit to putting pressure on the UK Government for improved school funding at a council meeting.
Speaking at a Vale of Glamorgan Council learning and culture scrutiny committee meeting, the Conservative MP argued that the Welsh Government needs to change the formula it uses to fund local authorities.
Vale of Glamorgan Council is one of the most poorly funded local authorities for education in Wales and a number of schools in the county have had to set deficit budgets.
One headteacher of a Barry primary school told councillors at a meeting in June that they don’t have the capacity to give some of their most vulnerable children the support they need and have been forced to cut down on staff.
Addressing members of the council’s scrutiny committee, Mr Cairns said: “This clearly cannot sustain itself and there needs to be a fair formula.”
Vale of Glamorgan Council has the lowest rate of funding per pupil out of the 22 local authorities across Wales, at £6,045. This is £728 per pupil less than the Wales average of £6,773 per pupil.
Mr Cairns called on his fellow attendees at the meeting to support each other in challenging the Welsh Government about the distribution of the money it receives for education.
He added: “As it stands now we are not supporting our pupils, we are not supporting our teachers and governors and the ones I worry about most are those with special education needs or additional learning needs… because those are the ones, if you talk to teachers, where resources are being cut back from in order to try to make the statutory obligations elsewhere.”
The Vale School Governors Association (VSGA) has also been arguing for a fresh look at the Welsh Government’s formula which is used to determine how much each local authority should receive in funding.
Its chair Dr Martin Price has previously said the formula’s use of 1991 census data is “fundamentally absurd”.
However, he also said at Thursday’s meeting that the amount the Welsh Government gets to distribute to local authorities is too small.
Dr Price said other local authorities in Wales that receive better funding than the Vale are facing similar issues in being unable to provide the education that they are supposed to for the money they are given.
He added: “The issue has been brought to a head due to the size of the pie going out is insufficient and that is a consequence of not enough money coming in from Westminster maybe, or it is a consequence of different priorities within Welsh Government.
“From the point of view of the Vale Governors Association… we aren’t the people to tell you what the solution is. We are just pointing out the problem in a big way.”
A number of councillors asked Mr Cairns for his thoughts on the level of funding from Westminster.
Labour council member, Cllr Helen Payne asked the MP if Westminster should be providing more funding to Wales to be distributed to local authorities.
Plaid Cymru council member Cllr Nic Hodges said: “I still haven’t heard a commitment from you to lobby for a larger bit of the pie.
“I hear that taxes are at their highest rate, I hear that Labour are committing to the same funding envelope.
“I know that… all I am asking for is an understanding of what you potentially as our MP can do for us.”
Mr Cairns said: “I will work with you and anyone to try and get at least more modern census data to be used in the funding formula that incorporates the local authority funding.
“That is something that should be a given and that should be easy and straight forward.
“I appreciate… the Welsh Government ministers have got a challenge and there may well need to be some sort of transitional funding for those authorities that lose out in the end, but our job is to ensure that we’re fighting for the pupils in the Vale of Glamorgan that are not receiving the resource that they should be receiving and I think that the funding formula needs to be adjusted exactly as the Welsh Government’s own report highlighted.
“It was written in 2020 and it is simply gathering dust as it stands.”
The Welsh Government said in June that the amount of funding set aside for school budgets is for local authorities to determine.
Vale of Glamorgan Council, as with local authorities across the UK, has faced significant financial pressure due to spiralling inflation and rising costs, leaving it with a budget gap of more than £9m.
The leader of Vale of Glamorgan Council, Cllr Lis Burnett said the council won’t know exactly how much it can expect in terms of funding until Christmas.
A report presented to the council’s cabinet members this year indicated that the funding gap for the next financial year is forecast to be £6.43m.
Cllr Burnett said: “We continue to lobby Welsh Government. I have numerous papers that we have sent in. I have numerous conversations and there are very few Welsh Government ministers who would come to the Vale without having been fully briefed on school funding before they arrive.
“But I do think that we are oversimplifying how funding formulas fit together and having to make sure that we do not create unintended consequences by making changes that aren’t fully worked out.”
The council leader later added: “We will continue to lobby and we will continue to, as we have done and unfortunately to the detriment of other services… support our children and we will also continue to support our most vulnerable in terms of social care.”
Labour Senedd Member for Vale of Glamorgan, Jane Hutt, who was expected at the scrutiny committee meeting did not attend.
The chair of the scrutiny committee, Cllr Rhys Thomas, said an invitation was sent to Ms Hutt by the council’s Democratic Services team.
However, a number of councillors, including Cllr Burnett, said they were told Ms Hutt had not received the invite email.
Cllr Thomas said: “There is no doubt that schools across Wales are in crisis due to funding issues, especially in the Vale of Glamorgan. This is having a direct impact on the life chances of children.
“I repeat my invitation to local Senedd Member Jane Hutt to address my committee and join our cross-party campaign to secure better funding for Vale schools from the Welsh Government.”
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