Garnant school will have to use financial reserves to meet energy costs says headteacher

A PRIMARY school head teacher in Carmarthenshire said he would use financial reserves to pay for an 80% hike in energy costs, but warned that this approach would only go so far.

Gethin Richards said Ysgol Y Bedol, Garnant, paid £17,000 for electricity and £14,000 for gas between April 2021 and the end of March 2022.

The school budgeted an extra £7,000 for energy for the current financial year, but this was before wholesale energy prices soared further.

Mr Richards said the school now needed to find a further £18,000, on top of the £7,000, to meet the new costs.

He said:

“That’s when you’re looking at decisions – do you look at your staffing structure? Do you cut back on school activities? I have reassured staff that for this financial year it’s going to come out of our surplus. Obviously, the surplus will only carry you so much.”

It is a sobering dilemma facing schools across Wales and the UK, as well as councils, care homes, health boards, businesses and householders.

Mr Richards said Carmarthenshire Council has been supportive of schools in terms of funding, but that head teachers and governing bodies faced other cost pressures.

He said Ysgol Y Bedol, which has 350 pupils and 35 staff, will need an extra £50,000 to cover a 5% pay rise – and more if teaching unions were successful in securing a higher increase for teachers.

Mr Richards added that the cost of transporting pupils to swimming lessons in Ammanford will rise from £1,000 to £1,700 per term. He said this was all at a time when pupil numbers were the same as before, meaning that the school wouldn’t receive extra pupil funding.

“So it’s not really an option to cut staff without it affecting things,” he said.

Mr Richards said one option might be raising the charges that outside groups pay to use school facilities in the evening, but he said this too had knock-on effects.

The energy price cap, which caps the unit price of energy for UK householders, was raised from £1,277 to £1,971 in April and is increasing to £3,549 on October 1. It is likely to be top of the incoming Prime Minister Liz Truss’s “to do” list.

Mr Richards said he felt the Government needed to cap costs to “a reasonable amount”.

“How they do that, I don’t know,” he said. “Education is just one sector which is asking for it.”

Another sector is care homes. Doug Leach owns Llanfair Grange care home, Llandovery, and Bryngwyn care home in Rhayader, Brecon.

Mr Leach said in February he fixed a new electricity tariff for both homes and one for gas at Llanfair Grange. The new cost, he said, was 82% higher than the previous one.

“In very simple terms, what can you do about it?” he said. “You can’t turn the heating down for the elderly.”

Mr Leach said energy, staff and food were a care home’s three biggest expenses, and that all three had risen substantially this year, although he stressed that staff “deserved every penny and more”.

He said: “Energy is a problem normally – now it’s potentially catastrophic.”

While the two-year fixed tariff gives him some certainty at least, Mr Leach said the cost of wood pellets which heat the care home in Rhayader were rising substantially, although he still received a Government biomass subsidy.

He said the big underlying issue facing care homes was a funding shortfall.

“Much of our income is from local council (care) placements,” he said. “If local authorities don’t get the funding from central Government, the onus will be on the care homes to make up the shortfall.”

He said he would like to think central Government will reflect the energy price hikes in the funding it provides for the care home sector.

Mr Leach said the huge energy price rises might lead some care home providers to question their viability. “We might see some care home closures as a result,” he said.

Bill Morris said the Kidwelly care home he owns – Glanmorfa – was on a fixed-term tariff for gas and electricity.

“The actual rise (coming) is not going to affect me a great deal – next year might be a different ballgame,” he said.

The National Care Association is urging care homes to petition support from local politicians. The letter it has invited care homes to send to elected representatives said: “The current energy price rises present a very severe risk to the sustainability of care services in your constituency.”

Meanwhile, the Welsh Local Government Association, which represents councils, said it was imperative that pupils and staff were kept warm at school this winter.

Cllr Ian Roberts, the WLGA’s education spokesman, said:

“Councils are working closely with schools to help meet the extraordinary pressures on them faced by soaring costs and rocketing bills. We are calling on the UK Government to urgently step in to help our services that are relied upon by communities across Wales.”

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