Friday 27 April 2012

School Bus and other Education cuts in Carmarthenshire

Observers of the February meeting of the County Council meeting in Carmarthen will remember that the authority passed budget plans for the next three years after what was some extremely cynical media manipulation.

At the end of 2011 the council published its budget proposals, and there were howls of protest at some of the cuts outlined. Those included inflation busting increases for school meals, charges for blue badge holders, a halving of support for Mentrau Iaith and the closure of the county's two museums.

If anyone wanted to create a smoke screen to push through much more serious cuts, they could not have picked four areas of spending more likely to generate headlines and noise. In the case of the school meals increase, reversing the proposal was only going to cost £34,000, so this was a particularly cost-effective piece of PR, as it would enable Meryl & Co. to claim that they had the well-being of families at heart, etc.

Blue badge holders, in the main elderly drivers, were clearly upset, and people who care about the Welsh language were up in arms about the halving of support for the Mentrau Iaith.

All of a sudden in January, after a put-up media campaign in which the Carmarthen Journal ran pictures of concerned-looking members of the Executive Board hearing pleas from young children to save the museums, the council's press office announced that these changes would not be going ahead, small-print: for the time being. There would be no increase in school meals, there would be no charges for blue badge holders, plans to close the museums had been deferred, and the Mentrau Iaith cuts were being "re-profiled" to come in over three years.

While all this was going on, a host of other shockers were waved through without comment and without so much as a squeak from the local press.

Here are just a few taken from a document setting out details of "managerial" and "policy" spending cutbacks as they affect school children. What follows are the main items listed under "policy" spending reductions.

  • Post 16 school transport - the council will abolish free school travel for children aged 16+ from 1 September 2013. If you live in a rural area, as many of us do, expect to have to find a hefty amount of money to pay for the school bus once your child has turned 16. This will obviously affect many children in their GCSE year, as well as Sixth Formers.
  •  As from 1 April 2013 the council will remove fare paying bus services for children who live within the statutory walking distance to school.
  •  There will be a "progressive reduction" over three years in After School clubs, Play Wales and early years education.
  • The council will reduce its spend on Education Welfare Officers, meaning that more responsibility will be placed on individual schools to deal with problems like truancy.
  • There will be a reduction in the service to families with blind and deaf children (weigh this spiteful £15,000 cut against the millions the council throws at its pet projects).
  • There will be a reduction in child psychologist support.
  • The schools music scheme is being scrapped.
  • There will be a massive cut in the Athrawon Bro scheme of Welsh-medium teaching support.
  • Although the council allocated an extra £34,000 to school meals in 2012/13 to avoid an increase in charges, it plans to cut £150,000 from the service over the following two years.
  • £300,000 is due to come off special education in 2014/15.
 There are many more cuts, particularly affecting children with special needs.

Some of these cuts have come in this year, and the rest will follow over the next 2 years.

Reversing at least some of the cuts is not impossible, but Meryl Gravell and Kevin Madge have made sure that there will be precious little left in the kitty after all of their PR stunts and pet white elephants have been paid for.

A very good example of what these cuts will mean for rural areas is highlighted in Pat Racher's blog here.
Pat is standing as Plaid candidate in Llandovery, where local parents will no doubt be surprised that their existing Independent councillors forgot to tell parents about the school bus time bomb. 


Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

This is a real shocker, Cneifiwr. How on earth is someone on Income Support supposed to pay a small fortune in bus fares for their sons/daughters to travel to school for up to three years from say Ystradowen to Ammanford (11 miles) or Cynghordy to Bro Myrddin (32 miles) after they turn 16?

The Carmarthenshire administration must be the most bonkers of the lot.

Anonymous said...

very sore subject, llandovery to fairfach 13 miles.

32 miles one way to carmarthen is a slog and a half. stuff that (anon2)

Jack Old Oak said...

Perhaps if Councillors were FORCED to pay for all their own transport costs to ALL council meetings of every kind wherever they live (and I believe they are all over 16!) out of their own pockets, they just might appreciate the excessive financial burden they intend to place on parents and/or schoolchildren over 16, especially those who live in remote rural areas, especially now they intend to close certain secondary schools and force the pupils to travel what any reasonable person would consider to be long distances - say in excess of 5 miles.
Councillors may then re-consider these ill-thought out policies they hope to introduce with apparently little consideration of the results.
They coul;d even take a 25% cut in their own allowances and expenses to help the situation........