Tory criticism of Welsh emergency schools measures ‘hypocrisy,’ say Lib-Dems
Tory councillors’ criticisms of an emergency measure which could lead to schools closing one day a week have been labelled “hypocrisy” by the Welsh Liberal-Democrats.
The Liberal Democrats have claimed the “Conservatives do not have a leg to stand on” when it comes to criticising the emergency options having to be considered, saying it’s their party at Westminster that is forcing schools and other public services to the brink by not taking action on the energy crisis.
School children could be taught online from home for a day a week due to the cost-of-living crisis in Powys, with councillors discussing introducing remote leaning because of the soaring cost of heating classrooms over the winter.
As during the Covid lockdowns, some school hubs would remain open to look after some pupils who would not be able to study from home.
Earlier this week, a senior Tory councillor in Powys recently said education chiefs in in the county need to show “leadership”.
Conservative group leader in Powys, Cllr Aled Davies said: “Cllr [Pete] Roberts [Powys cabinet member for Education] needs to show leadership, to make these suggestions and then walk away as if it’s nothing to do with him is simply not acceptable.”
Cllr Davies pointed out that education watchdog, Estyn, in their annual report for 2021/22 had been “very clear” about the negative impacts that online learning had on children.
Cllr Davies said: “There will clearly be further impacts on the family, especially if both parents work, there would potentially be additional heating and food costs and no access to hot free school meals.
“The impact on teachers must not be forgotten, they are currently working extremely hard.
“To increase their workload even further due to covering for unfilled vacancies is dangerous.”
“The cabinet member really should have thought his ideas through.”
Responding, Powys Welsh Liberal Democrat Group Leader Cllr James Gibson-Watt said: “I want to make it clear the proposal to close schools one day a week would be an absolute last resort, after Covid the last thing any of us want to see is children missing out on more time in class and parents being forced to spend more money on heating at home.
“However, the Conservatives do not have a leg to stand on when it comes to criticising emergency planning. It is the sheer inaction of their party that has led us to this position. Councils across the UK, whatever party they are being run by are being pushed to the brink by inaction on energy costs from the UK Government.
“It’s not only schools under pressure, but also hospitals, care homes or any public service that needs to heat physical buildings.
“If the Conservatives had listened to the Liberal Democrats when we suggested it over a year ago and introduced a real windfall tax, we could be in a much better position. We’ve seen this month the obscene profits from the likes of BP and Shell while the average person and public services struggle.
“Likewise, the Conservatives could listen to Liberal Democrat calls for Powys to be added to the rural fuel duty relief scheme, reducing petrol and diesel prices which also represent a significant pressure for local authorities and public services.
“Ultimately it is a decision and responsibility for individual headteachers and governing bodies to manage school budgets, but the Conservative Government is forcing public service providers up and down the UK to consider drastic options.
“Hopefully they won’t need to be taken – but it would be irresponsible for us not to plan for the worst case scenarios.”
Cllr Aled Davies, who was finance portfolio holder and deputy council leader up to last May’s local election had said that school finances are in a “healthier position” now than they were five years ago.
He has also been asking for more detail on future school funding plans and wants to know “how much” the education budget will be cut next year.
Plaid Cymru group leader Cllr Elwyn Vaughan said the party in Powys would oppose the move: “After suffering and losing out so much during Covid – our young people are proposed to lose out yet again by the Lib-Dem led administration.”
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