MEMBERS of a scrutiny committee have been told by an education chief that recovery plans for schools in financial deficit need time to work.

School finances were discussed at a meeting of Powys County Council’s Learning and Skills scrutiny committee on Wednesday, June 21

In recent weeks schools and their governing bodies have finalised and submitted their budgets for this financial year to the council.

They have also forecast for the next two years where they will be at the end of the 2025/2026 financial year.

Secondary school budgets are set to fall off a cliff edge as the report predicts they could cumulatively be £3.2 million in deficit by the end of March 2024 and £5.736 million in deficit by the end of March 2026

The primary school sector is in better financial health and is predicted to post a £3.175 million cumulative surplus by the end of March 2024, but by the end of March 2026 this is forecast to drop to a surplus of £672,000.

READ MORE: Powys secondary schools staring at budget cliff edge - report

The situation has raised fears that some subjects will stop being taught as schools will need to lose staff in an attempt to balance budgets – and this could lead to an exodus of pupils leaving to be taught over the border in England or in other Welsh counties.

Committee chairman, Conservative Cllr Gwynfor Thomas said: “There’s a certain amount of shock at the figures before us and the deterioration in primary sector is a swing we’ve never seen before.

“It suggests we’re underfunded or doing it in an improper way.”

An attack line during the budget discussion earlier this year by the Conservatives in Powys has been to say that school funding is around £4 million short.

At the meeting Labour’s finance portfolio holder Cllr David Thomas pointed out that school funding this year has increased by £4.5 million.

But money has been taken out of the delegated schools reserve with and schools especially in the primary sector expected to use the surplus money they have to tide them through this year.

Cllr Thomas said: “The budget awarded to schools was £84 million.

County Times: Cllr David ThomasCllr David Thomas

“The reason why that £3.8million was taken from reserves in the school budget system is the fact they were over inflated because of the award or grants during the Covid-19 crisis in particular which weren’t required.

“If you look at the cumulative surpluses for 2023/2024 and 2024/2025 the majority of schools are in surplus and that underlines the fact that a lot of these surpluses were overinflated because of these late grants coming in.

“I do accept we can’t continue like this because eventually these surpluses will deplete – that’s something we have to address.”

This year 16 schools have submitted budgets that are in unlicensed positions.

Recovery plans expected to explain how these schools will endeavour to get back into a balanced budget position.

Cllr Thomas said: “Before we draw judgement on 2025/2026, we have to see how those recovery plans pan out and how effective the work our officers are doing with schools to reduce the deficits.”

He added that he would take the committee’s concerns back to cabinet.