Cardiff school budget situation ‘a ticking time-bomb’ says Cllr Rodney Berman

A COUNCILLOR has called the financial situation faced by Cardiff’s schools “a ticking time bomb” as more than a quarter will set deficit budgets for the year.

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Councillor Rodney Berman, the Liberal Democrat group leader at Cardiff Council, raised his concerns at a full council meeting on Friday, June 29.

A total of 39 schools across Cardiff will be setting deficit budgets for 2023-24. This is made up of 34 primary schools, four secondary schools and one special needs school.

It represents 34% of the total number of primary schools in the city, 22% of secondary schools and 14% of special needs schools.

Cllr Berman said: “That is quite a substantial percentage of both primary and secondary schools that are effectively setting budgets to spend more than what they are actually getting in funding and the reason they are having to do that – and I know because I am on the governing body of two primary schools that are having to set deficit budgets – is because it is the only way they can meet their statutory staffing obligations, but it does suggest to me that there is a huge ticking time bomb here because these schools cannot carry on setting deficit budgets year after year.”

Councils across the UK are facing huge budget gaps this year as a result of spiralling inflation and increased cost pressures.

Cardiff Council will have to bridge a budget gap of more than £24m for 2023-24. It distributed an additional £25.02m to its delegated schools budget earlier in the year.

The council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for education, Councillor Sarah Merry, responded: “In terms of the Welsh Government, we will certainly be asking for them to prioritise spending for education and I think it needs to be a priority, whether that is for the council, the Welsh Government or the UK Government in terms of any additional funding that can be given to the Welsh Government.

“Our children have actually been through a period of huge upheaval. We know that there are increased demands going into our schools and it is really important that we seek to meet that.

“In the meantime though, our officers are working with schools in deficit. They are collating individual school budget impact assessments.”

Cardiff Council said 42 schools in the city originally applied to set a deficit budget for 2023-24 but three have since managed to balance their budgets.

All of these schools are working with officers to create a medium-term financial plan.

In a statement, Cllr Merry said: “The additional funding which the council has provided to schools this year underlines the importance that we place on education across the city, but it must be recognised that there are a number of complex factors contributing to the financial challenges our schools are facing.

“In our primary schools for example, we are past the recent peak in pupil numbers, meaning that we are now seeing vacant school places, representing a vacancy rate of 22% overall in the primary sector.

“As pupil numbers play a significant part in calculating school funding, vacancies clearly have a serious impact on budgets.

“That is one reason why our school organisation planning remains so important, aligning school capacities with demand for places, and we can see that work in the current proposals being consulted on for primary schools in central and north Cardiff, for instance.”

Other local authorities in Wales also have a number of schools which will be setting deficits for 2023-24.

The headteacher of Romilly Primary School in Barry addressed Vale of Glamorgan Council members recently about the “bleak” future that her school faces.

At a meeting last month, Katy Williams told councillors her school is about £300,000 adrift each year and has had to cut down on staff and stop running emotional literacy support.

She added that financial concerns at other schools in the county were making staff ill.

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