A BID to avoid more than £210,000 of cuts to school budgets in Ceredigion was not backed as councillors focused on the budgets for learning services this year.

At learning communities overview and scrutiny on Thursday (February 18) councillors supported the proposed draft budget for Ceredigion County Council, along with a 3.5 per cent council tax rise, and the budgets for the schools and learning service.

Cllr Mark Strong called for an extra 0.5 per cent increase on council tax so that £210,069 of budget reduction would not be delegated directly to schools – which the committee was told was a 0.5 per cent cut per school.

“These are savings governors have got to make in their schools and that could cause loss of jobs or jobs not being filled when people leave, what is going to be the short term and long term effect of this,” said Cllr Strong.

“I think it’s important for us to do whatever we can to avoid the situation, especially on top of saving money when pupils haven’t been in school properly for months. I feel very strongly that pupils shouldn’t suffer and suffer in coming years,” he added.

The committee heard that the cuts would be distributed to schools based on pupil numbers, with a “rough calculation” of around £25 per child.

His recommendation to either increase council tax or fund the shortfall from elsewhere was not seconded.

Cllr Lynford Thomas said he sympathised with Cllr Strong “but nobody wants to make cuts, but as councillors we have to make difficult decisions.”

A report to the meeting states that schools’ budgets have had an “extremely challenging decade” with staffing reduced at all levels.

“The savings options below are therefore proposed on the basis that the service centrally will make savings of £282,931 (57 per cent) and the budgets delegated to schools will make savings of £210,069 (43 per cent).”

Savings proposed include £30,000 from WJEC, £45,000 from ERW, £55,000 from additional learning needs transport, £71,931 by closing office canteens and £66,000 staffing costs.

Cost pressures of £1.308million require funding including pay awards, catering food inflation, resource pressures and loss of income from increase in free school meals and inter-authority recoupment.

No increases to council charges are proposed in areas such as the music service, school meals or Theatr Felinfach, along with other under the remit of the scrutiny committee.

This was questioned by Cllr Keith Evans, who pointed out inflation of £17,000 for meals and that he was surprised not to see an increase in school meal costs.

Schools corporate lead Meinir Ebsworth said that the £2.50 charge was among the highest in Wales and it was thought that no increase would alleviate some pressure on families.

Not recruiting to posts until September for the services not currently running because of Covid-19 would also save money, she added.

Technical difficulties meant some councillors did not hear all of the discussion at the meeting – resulting in seven abstentions – with the committee approving the recommendations to council regarding the budget with seven votes.