Agenda item

Council Fund Budget 2024/25



(a) That the Education and Youth Portfolio’s options to reduce budgets be noted; and

(b) That the proposals for the delegated schools’ budget be noted.


            Introducing the report, the Corporate Finance Manager explained that this would be presented for consideration to all Overview & Scrutiny Committees.  Regular updates on the Council’s challenging budget position for 2024/25 had been provided to Members since last summer with the Welsh Government (WG) settlement announced on the 20th of December.  He reflected on the Council’s disappointing uplift of 2.2% compared with the Welsh average of 3.1% and to the summary of the key headlines which were reported to Cabinet on the 16 January which included the remaining gap of £12.946m. As a result, all portfolios had been asked to revisit and look at potential ways of reducing budgets or removing costs pressures to contribute towards meeting that gap.  The report provided details of the additional proposals for the Education & Youth portfolio and the current proposals for Delegated Schools Budgets.


            The Chief Officer (Education & Youth) commented on the two elements which had to be considered, the Education & Youth portfolio budget and the Delegated Schools Budgets, with point 1.05 in the report providing information on the proposed budget reductions.  She thanked her Senior Managers for the work that they had undertaken scrutinising every line of their budgets saying that it was not an easy task to identify efficiencies whilst protecting the integrity of the service and enabling the portfolio to fulfil its statutory responsibilities. She referred to the RAG ratings for these services and highlighted the Youth Service which was showing as Amber.


            The Chair invited questions and comments from the Committee on the budget proposals for the Education & Youth Portfolio.


Education & Youth Portfolio Budget Reductions


            Councillor Andrew Parkhurst said that he believed that because of the financial difficulties the WG budget has presented the Council with each Portfolio had been asked to identify 7.5% of savings in order that Members could then decide which of those potential savings could be accepted or rejected and that Members would have a choice and make an informed decision.  He said that there was a potential saving of £303,000 identified within the Education & Youth Portfolio excluding schools, but this did not equate to a 7.5% saving and he asked officers to clarify this.  He also referred to the 8-month outturn for this financial year where there had been £367,000 of savings and asked how this had been identified as this was more than the savings proposed for the 2024/25 budget.


            The Chief Officer advised that the total efficiencies identified did not equate to 7.5% of the overall budget for the Portfolio but explained that each Portfolio was asked to find up to 7.5% of efficiencies and that this was an aspiring target.  Any further efficiencies above those identified would risk delivery of statutory services and risk the Council not being able to meet its statutory functions.


            In relation to the £367,000 identified in-year efficiencies, the Chief Officer advised that this had come from a moratorium on the reduction or stopping of spend in each Portfolio.  One of the reasons for this efficiency was around the provision of 3 year olds and early years education with pupil numbers not coming through as anticipated, which reflected the fall in birth rates in recent times.  The Corporate Finance Manager added that the Council looked for recurring reductions in budget as a sustainable way of reducing budget requirements for next year.  The moratorium and temporary underspend were not reoccurring in nature but have been put in place to assist with the in-year overspend.  


Councillor Gladys Healey asked if there was financial provision for any refugees that may settle within the County.  The Chief Officer said yes to the best of her knowledge.  There had been a number of families who had settled in Flintshire and education provision had been made for them.  This was a challenge for all Local Authorities as it would not be made aware significantly in advance when the Home Office would direct them to receive families and children to be located in Flintshire.  There was a structured process in place to manage this and the Council worked closely with schools which had been demonstrated in recent times.


Councillor Jason Shallcross asked if a further explanation could be given on the budget reductions for Youth Services around the asset transfer of some buildings.  He believed the Council would incur a yearly cost for renting back space to use within the buildings in future.  The Chief Officer explained that the challenge for Youth Services was that it had, under its control, a number of buildings which were not solely used for youth clubs, but by other organisations who pay rent under the Fees and Charges Policy.  This was an expensive model.  The Council was looking at appropriate community groups/parents to take over the buildings as an asset transfer and if an affective partnership was developed, the Youth Service could rent back what it needed to create the opportunity for efficiencies which would allow for additional funding of more youth workers out in the communities working with schools and young people to support them. 


The Chief Executive advised that of the 2 current asset transfers, the one at Penyffordd was quite advanced, so should happen sooner and reduce the risk to the Council in meeting the budget reduction, as shown in the report.


Delegated Schools Budgets


            The Chief Officer outlined the cost pressures for the Delegated Schools Budgets which included a significant pressure in relation to pay awards for teachers and support staff, as detailed in the report.  Reference was made to the cost pressures around the management of foundation phase, specialist school provision, the increased cost pressures for Free School Meals, Transitional Rate Relief, NDR multiplier and the Specialist Mobile Classroom at the Specialist Primary School.  A summary was provided on the reductions and adjustments within the Delegated Schools Budgets which included information on the reductions in costs for energy, reduction in pupil numbers and costs relating to performance around pensions.  It was explained that following the proposal to remove £3m from the Delegated Schools Budgets this would still leave an uplift of 3.5% to their budgets.


The Chief Officer confirmed that the budget proposals had been presented and discussed at a meeting with Head Teachers and School Governors who understood why these decisions were being made.


Councillor Gladys Healey said that a consequence of cutting schools budgets by 3% may result in redundancies and asked would the Council be assisting financially with the cost of redundancies.  The Leader of the Council advised that the cost of redundancies did not sit with the Council.  The Council were there to advise and support schools who maybe in that difficult situation. 


Councillor Dave Mackie said that he could not support a 3% reduction in school budgets and would suggest that a 3% reduction in the delivery of education to pupils would take the Council below an acceptable minimal level.  He said that last year the school budgets were reduced by 3% and if the Council thought it acceptable to cut another 3% why not increase this figure last year.  He also said that there was a lot of evidence that schools need to perform better, and they need improved budgets and if you look at the PISA results this was concerning as Wales were at the bottom across the UK and also information from WG showed that, in relation, to Mathematics, Reading and Science performance levels were below that of 2021.


In relation to School Balances, Councillor Mackie said that reserves had reduced by £5m meaning that schools has spent their budget allocation and an additional £5m, this was not all schools but it showed that schools were already operating at an unacceptable lowest level. 


The Leader of the Council said that grouping all schools the same was disingenuous and unfair on headteachers, teachers and young people who were working hard to maintain education provision for young people to have the best possible standard of education.  Members were aware of the problems this year with the budget, and he was currently working on a response with the Chief Executive and other finance officers to WG which would be robust and strong.  Schools needed more budget; the Council needed more budget and WG needed more budget.  He asked where Councillor Mackie proposed that the additional funding be found and whether Councillor Mackie would recommend an additional 3% to be added to Council Tax and ringfenced for schools.  He said that nobody wanted to be in this position, but schools had the option to apply for a licenced deficit which the Council did not.  The Council had to set a balanced budget.


Councillor Parkhurst asked if an explanation could be provided on what the funding of £1.124m entitled ‘Unallocated Schools Budget’ related to.  It was agreed that a response be provided to the Committee following the meeting.


The recommendation, as outlined within the report, were moved by Councillor Ted Palmer and seconded by Councillor Carolyn Preece.   




(a) That the Education and Youth Portfolio’s options to reduce budgets be noted; and

(b) That the proposals for the delegated schools’ budget be noted.

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