CONWY'S cabinet were branded ‘cloth-eared’ for slashing school budgets by 5.5% as headteachers ‘begged for mercy’ – on the same day council tax was upped by 9.67%.

The criticism follows 1,397 parents and residents signing an e-petition against the school cuts, but Conwy’s cabinet blamed both the UK and Welsh governments for a lack of local authority funding.

Council leader Cllr Charlie McCoubrey introduced the budget report to the chamber, again blaming government funding for the council’s predicament.

Conwy together with Gwynedd received the joint lowest local government settlement in Wales – a rise of just 2%, this comparing to Denbighshire’s 3.7%.

“Once again we, as elected members, face the unpalatable balance of further cuts to services or punitive and unwelcome increases in council tax levels,” he said.

“Clearly this situation is not unique to Conwy with councils struggling across the UK.

“Much of this is out of our direct control, most notably pay awards, interest rates, and other significant elements such as social care and homelessness services which are in demand.

“At a time when personal taxation levels are at record levels, it is incredibly disappointing that the work of local government is undervalued and clearly underfunded, leaving council taxpayers contributing more and receiving less.”


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He added: “We’ll do everything we can to protect vital services, but to address the shortfall, we will need to reduce business cases, reduce services, and increase council tax.”

After cutting council services across the board, the council were left with a funding gap of £8m, which Conwy will now plug with a council tax rise of 9.67%, including a 0.77% rise for the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority levy.

Councillors voted 39/12 in favour of the council tax rise. The rise means a Band D resident in Conwy will pay £1,733.37 a year, an increase of £152.84.

But the increase follows a 9.9% council tax rise last year – the highest in Wales – meaning council tax has risen over 19.5% in two years.

The agreed budget allows for £12.012m of reductions. These include service budget reductions across the board of £7.851m and school budget reductions of £4.161m.

Conwy cut school budgets last year by 5%, meaning headteachers are facing a 10.5% cut in two years, prompting a letter to parents signed by all headteachers to go out in the weeks leading up to today’s meeting.

The yet-to-be answered e-petition then followed, calling on the cuts to be shelved.

Allied independent councillor Anne McCaffrey slammed cabinet members for the 5.5% cuts, which she said was setting schools up to fail.

“I believe this budget sets up Conwy schools to fail, and they do that by imposing a 5.5% cut,” she said.

“It is a bad choice, and it is a choice, despite what has been said. We can choose to make different decisions. I think if these choices are voted through, we will live to regret it.”

She added: “It is a figure that has been plucked out of the air. When I challenged (at a previous meeting) none of the cabinet were either prepared or able to offer any evidence that the 6% (reduced to 5.5%) wasn’t plucked out of the air at the time they made it, or that it was a fair, reasonable, or deliverable – or without significant harm.”

She went on: “The figure was plucked out of the air in cabinet before we even asked schools for their views about the impact or what it would mean. How can we be so cloth-eared when headteachers are begging us for mercy when we are hanging them out to dry? Why are we not publishing headteachers’ analysis so that it informs our decision making?”

First independent group leader Cllr Charlie McCoubrey responded by quoting figures and the financial hardships Conwy faced, but some of the finer details Cllr McCaffrey requested went unanswered.

“I think what we are doing – whilst I don’t want to make any cuts – I think it is proportionate relative to the size of the challenge we face,” he said.

“If I had reserves, I would put them in schools, absolutely. I would do, but I don’t.”

He added: “I don’t agree that there’s not been discussion. The fact that schools find that incredibly hard, I absolutely get that.”

Cabinet member for education Cllr Julie Fallon, of Conwy First Independent Group, appeared irritated by Cllr McCaffrey’s ‘cloth-eared’ statement.

“I think so many of your comments are so incredibly unfair,” she said.

“I think it is easy to sit in opposition and try and point score for your own residents or whatever it is. Obviously, Anne, (Cllr McCaffrey) you see yourself as the voice of schools.

“To call us cloth-eared and (say we are) hanging schools out to dry is completely incorrect and unfair. We engage with schools consistently we have 46 or 47 council members on governing bodies. The whole point of that is it gives us the opportunity to understand what is going on in our schools. We have a school budget forum which you write off as irrelevant… It is not irrelevant. It is something that is really important.”

Cllr Fallon went on to explain that she regularly met with headteachers on a monthly basis and was always available to talk through issues.

Conservative councillor Cheryl Carlisle summed up the feeling of the opposition.

“Residents can’t take another rise like this on top of 9.9% last year, the highest in Wales,” she said.

Several arguments then ensued with some councillors even heckling others as they spoke.

Conservative councillor Gareth Jones proposed a proper plan was put in place to work towards making savings before budgets were set in future years.

“The definition of madness is doing the same thing time and time again and expecting different results,” he said. “We need to change the way we are doing things.”

Deputy Labour leader Cllr Emily Owen, returning after becoming a mother, then scolded opposition councillors for their criticism, suggesting some had not attended budget meetings leading up to the main event.

“There has been very poor attendance from a lot of the members that will be voting against the budget today at the working groups to try to resolve this and be proactive for residents,” she said.

“You know, my baby has attended more meetings than some of the councillors in this room.”

Conwy’s chief executive Rhun ap Garerth warned the authority’s cash reserves were low and shouldn’t be used, but Colwyn Independent councillor David Carr said the authority owed it to residents to dip into its reserves.

“I don’t see how a record 10% council tax (rise) last year and another 10% this year is keeping council tax low,” he said.

“The council tax hits the poorest hardest. When we are looking at this council tax, if it goes through today, this is going to be a 54% rise in the last six years increasing nearly 25% above inflation.

“We have £25m in cash in reserves, and as Amanda (Hughes, head of finance) said, £9m is ready to spend today if we want to – £3.5m of that would get council tax below 5%, which would be more palatable for residents.”

But the budget was backed 39 votes to 12.

The councillors who voted against the budget were Anthony Bertola, Cheryl Carlisle, David Carr, Sam Cotton, Louise Emery, Gareth Jones, Anne McCaffrey, Bernice McLoughlin, Tom Montgomery, Joe Nuttall, Harry Saville, and Jacob Williams.