Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
Calls have been made for Internal Auditors to probe the process around the development of a Welsh-medium primary school in Welshpool.
At their meeting on Tuesday, January 12, Powys County Council’s cabinet approved the increase of over £1.35 million to redevelop Welshpool’s former Ysgol Maesydre.
The intention is to turn it into a new 150-pupil school for Welshpool’s Welsh-medium primary school, Ysgol Gymraeg y Trallwng.
This reflects the increase in costs due to the re-design of the scheme following collapse of Dawnus Construction in March 2019 and Cadw awarding the Ysgol Maesydre building Grade II listed building status in 2018.
Since June 2018, the project costs have shot up from by £2.717 million from just under £6.4 million to £9.1million it is expected to cost now.
Half of which, £4.55million will come from the Welsh Government’s 21st Century schools building programme.
Concerns on the financial aspect of the project were brought to the cabinet’s attention by Cllr Peter Roberts, Chairman of the Learning and Skills scrutiny committee.
Cllr Roberts (Llandrindod South – Liberal Democrat) explained that the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Audit committee, Cllr John Morris (Crickhowell – Liberal Democrat) and lay member John Brautigam, had discussed their concerns around the cost for this, and other recent school building projects, with him.
They had compared the cost with developments taking place outside Powys.
Cllr Roberts said: “There are questions raised around the overall costs of school development and redevelopment that we may wish to look at.
“There are specific issues in this report and the proposal that give cause for concern, costs that are due to the Cadw listing are not specifically identified.”
He added that this was also the case for the costs incurred by the collapse of Dawnus.
“There is not the detail we would like to see, and have confidence that the process is robust,” said Cllr Roberts.
Cllr Roberts suggested that the cabinet refer the processes around the development to internal auditors SWAP.
This would allow SWAP to identify the “challenges” the authority faced with the development.
He believed this would allow for lessons to and learnt in time for the huge school reorganisation building program, which is expected to happen over the next decade.
Finance portfolio holder Aled Davies (Llanrhaeadr-ym Mochnant & Llansilin – Conservative), said: “Cllr Roberts does pick up important points, we strive to achieve value for money at all times, but this project has changed considerably over the last few years after the collapse of Dawnus and the listing.
“It has been through a robust tendering process and the Welsh Government have been up to speed throughout this.”
Education portfolio holder, Cllr Phyl Davies, (Blaen Hafren – Conservative), said: “We are very aware that this is public money we are spending.
“This is one of the last pieces of the jigsaw in the Welshpool area, and I’m sure I speak for many people we are very glad that this project come out of the ground.”
Welsh language portfolio holder, Cllr Myfanwy Alexander, (Independent – Banwy), said that the school “is thriving” with numbers of pupils on the up as Welshpool residents value the Welsh language and are “embracing” it.
“This capital spend makes it very clear that this cabinet’s vision is that as well as a gateway to Wales, Welshpool will be a gateway to the Welsh language,” said Cllr Alexander.
With Welshpool Church in Wales primary school having already left Maesydre for their new school building, work can start quickly on the redevelopment.