Conwy’s leader in the hot seat over ‘school project funding gap plug’

Old Colwyn councillor Cheryl Carlisle tabled a question at May’s finance and resources scrutiny committee at Bodlondeb.

Cllr Carlisle asked Charlie McCoubrey about the decision process which took place before a payment was agreed for the project at Ysgol Y Creuddyn in Penrhyn Bay.

She said she had been contacted by several headteachers about the payment.

Cllr Carlisle said: “Can you please explain what scrutiny, democratic, and constitutional approval processes were given and complied with to arrive at the decision to remove £540,823.45 from the Capital Repair and Maintenance Grant and use it to plug the funding shortfall in order to commission and build a new Welsh Immersion Unit at Ysgol Y Creuddyn?”


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She added: “How were head teachers, schools, governors, and members consulted and informed?

“What governance was there around the cabinet approval and virement of a spend in excess of £500,000 (£540,823.45) and whether that should have come to council for approval?”

The cabinet usually must consult full council before spending over £500,000.

The council slashed all school budgets by 5% in the last budget despite an outcry from headteachers.

But reading from a sheet, Cllr McCoubrey said all the processes had been above board and approved by the Welsh Government, adding the money had simply been reallocated.

“The financial regulations requirement for decisions on capital spend, needing to be taken by council over £500,000 by both long-standing custom and practice, relate to where the funding is from council resources, so for example that could be debt, capital receipts, or reserves,” he said.

“The spend on the Welsh language unit has been funded from grant monies, and therefore there is no call on council resources.

“Grant-funded capital schemes are routinely added to the capital programme, and amendments are reflected and approved as part of the net changes in the quarterly monitoring reports.

“Again, these are long-standing arrangements, and the grant-awarding body in this case is Welsh Government, and they sent us approval on 30 March that they thought it was appropriate for this money to support the construction of the (building).”

He added: “So I thought it would be useful to give some background as to why there has been an allocated pot built up in the repair and maintenance grant over the last four years.

“It has been due to project cost tenders coming in less than had been allocated for the works, unused contingency fees, reallocation of certain other grants, and other grant streams – ALN funding, ventilation and asbestos works – have allowed us to carry out some of that work without calling on the main RNM pot.

“Sometimes it has been scopes of work amendments, so essentially the surplus that was built up was approved by Welsh Government to be reallocated.

“None of that money was allocated for any other schemes, so nothing will change in terms of what was going to be delivered and what we looked to deliver moving forward.”

Cllr Carlisle then again asked what governance and scrutiny the decisions had been through.

She also asked the value of repair and maintenance works in the council’s school estate.

She added: “I know very well from my own schools how much is outstanding in that, and it seems bizarre that the Welsh Government has been consulted and agreed to that, and that Conwy has gone with that.”

Cllr McCoubrey then said he’d answered the question. He claimed he had no further detail to hand but added he would give a written response in the future.

Cllr Carlisle added: “But I still don’t know what governance it has gone through, what governance, what scrutiny.”

But Conwy’s head of legal Matt Georgiou intervened and said the questioning should be ended in accordance with the rules, as Cllr Carlisle had been granted a supplementary question.

Chairing the meeting, Cllr Carlisle vowed to submit a freedom of information request to get the answers to her questions.

North Wales Pioneer | Llandudno