Agenda item



[NOTE:  Councillors L.M. Davies and A.C. Jones, having earlier declared an interest in this item remained in the meeting during its consideration.  Furthermore, at this point, Councillor B.W Jones declared a personal interest on the basis that her son was employed as a Headteacher in a school within the County.  Councillor B. Jones remained in the meeting during consideration of the item].


The Committee considered the Council’s Revenue Budget Strategy 2023/24 to 2025/26 which provided a current view of the revenue budget for 2023/2024 together with indicative figures for the 2024/25 and 2025/26 financial years.  The report was based on officers’ projections of spending requirements and took account of the provisional settlement issued by Welsh Government (WG) on 14 December 2022.


It was emphasised that whilst significant work had already been undertaken in preparing the budget, the report represented an initial position statement which would be updated following the consultation process.  Accordingly, Members were reminded that the report had been considered by the Cabinet at its meeting on 09 January 2023 and members of the Committee had attended recent consultation events which had provided an opportunity to analyse and seek clarification on various aspects of the budget.


The report indicated that, after adjustments for WG, identified transfers, the increase in the provisional settlement for Carmarthenshire was 8.5% (£26.432 million). The Aggregate External Finance (AEF) had therefore increased to £338.017 million in 2023/24.  Whilst the settlement represented a significant increase to the indicative figure of 3.4%, the financial model forecasted a requirement for £20m savings over the three year Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) period.


Committee’s attention was drawn to section 3.5 of the budget strategy whereby an overview of the schools’ delegated budgets was provided to Members. It was noted that many service-specific grants would remain at a broadly similar level (cash value) to previous years which would, in reality reduce outputs given the impact of pay awards and general inflation.  The Cabinet Member for Resources was however pleased to report that the Additional Learning Needs Transformation Grant and the Pupil Development Grant had been enhanced, and furthermore, WG funding had been provided to flatline the Recruit Recover Retain Standards (RRRS) grant, instead of the planned reduction, and this would enable schools to continue with their post-covid recovery activities.


Reference was made to the independent pay review body’s recommendation of a 5% increase for all Teachers which had been accepted by WG; however, it was acknowledged that the National Education Union (NEU) members had voted in favour of industrial action in a bid for a 12% pay uplift. Committee noted that the draft budget included the 1% “catchup” to 5%, however any further increases would be unfunded and represent an additional financial pressure of approximately £1m for every 1% increase in pay.


The Committee thereupon considered the following detailed budget information appended to the Strategy, relevant to its remit:-


·       Appendix A(i) – Efficiency summary for the Education & Children’s Services Department.

·       Appendix A(ii) – Growth Pressures summary for the Education & Children’s Services Department. 

·       Appendix B – Budget monitoring report for the Education & Children’s Services Department

·       Appendix C – Charging Digest for the Education & Children’s Services Department


The Committee was advised that the final budget proposals would be presented to the Cabinet mid/late February, which would enable a balanced budget to be presented to County Council on the 1st March 2023.  It was however noted that due to the delays in the provisional settlement, and the consequential impact on Welsh Government’s budget finalisation, the publication of the final settlement would not be published until the 7th March 2023.


The issues/observations raised by the Committee were addressed as follows:-


In response to a query regarding the utilisation of school reserves for 2022/23, the Director of Corporate Services confirmed that it was possible for the end of year position to be more favourable than forecasted, due to the timings of the grant funding being confirmed by Welsh Government.  In this regard, it was clarified that any school-specific grant funding received would be accommodated into the school reserves, should the grant’s terms and conditions allow.


Concerns were raised regarding the potential reprofiling of smaller schools whereby it was expressed that further information was required before efficiency savings could be supported in this regard. The Director of Education and Children’s Services clarified that the review of the Carmarthenshire's Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme was underway and was expected to be concluded by the Summer 2023.  It was noted that the results of the review would be considered by the Cabinet in due course.


The Director of Corporate Services, in response to a query, confirmed that any Industrial Action undertaken by the NEU members would result in a direct budgetary saving for the Local Authority.  Furthermore, it was clarified that no further budget provision would be made in respect of Teacher Pay Awards until the settlement had been finalised.


Following a request for further information regarding the schools which showed a deficit budgetary position as at March 2022, the Director of Education and Children’s Services highlighted that myriad of reasons could contribute to a school being in a budget deficit, though the main expenditure for schools related to staffing costs.  Furthermore, it was explained that smaller schools would not have much flexibility within their budgets to meet unexpected costs. An assurance was provided to Committee that regular communication and support was provided to schools in an endeavour to address budgetary challenges.


Concerns were expressed in respect of the impact of the proposed elevation in the cost of school meals set out in the Charging Digest, which could lead to a lower uptake in the purchasing of school meals and result in a further deficit to the budgetary position.  It was confirmed that the concerns raised by Committee would be fed back to the Cabinet as part of the consultation process prior to the final budget being set by Council on 7th March 2023.  The Director of Corporate Services clarified to the Committee that the Cabinet Member for Education and Welsh Language was responsible for reconciling the fees and charges for the Education and Children’s Services division.


In response to a query, the Director of Education and Children’s Services explained that an element of the Council’s budget would be delegated to schools to manage redundancies and discussions were ongoing to enable schools to better understand the impact of redundancies and become more cost effective.  In this regard, Members highlighted that the Governor Training programme would need to be updated to reflect the additional requirement.


A discussion ensued on the current process in place regarding school redundancies and it was reported to Committee that there was no information to indicate a change to Welsh legislation to follow the Scottish model whereby teachers were employed centrally to facilitate the effective management of the workforce in terms of staff movements to meet the needs of schools.


A concern was expressed in relation to the proposed budget reduction for youth support related services.  The Head of Strategy and Learner Support confirmed that the Shared Prosperity Fund would provide some financial support for youth support services.  The Council was also exploring different ways of providing youth support services in an endeavour to minimise the impact of budgetary reductions on frontline services.


Reference was made to the proposed review of primary schools’ footprint to derive efficiency savings of £200k for 2024/25.  A Member enquired as to the methodology for selecting schools for closures, together with the potential number of school closures that would be required to achieve the efficiency savings. The Director of Education and Children’s Services clarified that the figure noted was indicative at this stage, pending the outcome of the review; it was however confirmed that savings in the region of £75k - £80k could be generated from each school closure as a result of the premises and running costs.





The 2023/24 – 2025/26 Revenue Budget Strategy Consultation be received;



The Charging Digest detailed in Appendix C to the report, be endorsed.


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