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Decsion to strip Clyro primary school of its financial responsibility “not political”

A DECISION to strip a school of its financial responsibility was “not political” according to a senior council officer.

At Powys County Council’s (PCC) Finance Panel meeting on Friday, April 9, questions were asked about why one school had been stripped of it’s financial responsibility, while others with larger deficits, still control their own finances.

On December 18, 2020, PCC announced that the Clyro primary school governing body had its right to control the budget suspended.

This allows PCC to take over control of staffing and other spending decisions and address the deficit budget.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat and Green Party group, Cllr James Gibson-Watt is the local member for Clyro, but is not a school governor.

Cllr Gibson-Watt (Glasbury), said: “I might sound a little parochial here as it my local primary school.

“If this were happening anywhere else in the county I would be saying the same thing,

“When I challenged this, we were told there are others in worse positions but they have credible financial recovery plans in place.

“The Finance Panel deserve to understand the process by which these decisions are taken.”

Cllr Gibson-Watt pointed out that there were several other schools with “significant budget deficits” for many years but no action was being taken against them.

He wondered if the department had enough staff to do the work or whether Clyro would be the first of many to be stripped of it’s financial powers?

“We need to understand the rationale because it is beginning to look like a political decision not one simply based on financial process,” said Cllr Gibson-Watt.

Head of finance, Jane Thomas said: “It is not a decision taken lightly.

“The levels of deficits in other schools has been raised several times, but the key factors considered in this instance, is that there was a refusal of any action to be taken, or for any recovery plan to be submitted.”

Ms Thomas explained that other schools had put forward recovery plans and that their governing bodies were working with the council to resolve debt issues.

Ms Thomas said  “It is not a political decision but an officer decision and we do take them on  individual school circumstances, I can assure you of that.”

Cllr John Morris, (Crickhowell – Liberal Democrat) believed that senior education staff should appear at a future panel meeting, to explain how the decisions are made.

Cllr Morris said that he was disappointed that the latest financial report did not explain how schools were working with education service staff to resolve financial issues.

Cllr Morris added: “I went through quite a difficult position with Crickhowell High School, and we couldn’t make out how we were going through it but Brecon High School for instance, who had similar problems weren’t.”

The latest report up to the end of February predicts schools in Powys will be  by £1.270 million over budget at the end of the 2020/21 financial year.

This will need to be paid for from schools delegated reserves.

Primary schools are projected to be £2,102 million to the good, while Secondary schools are projected to be £3.469 million over budget.

Individual school financial positions are due to be updated soon.

Governors at Clyro have said that they don’t want to lose a teacher, which would see the number of classes cut down and thus increasing class sizes.

A fighting fund has raised £5,861 and a petition to “Save Clyro School” has been signed by 1,433 people.

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