Jacob Williams
Thursday, 27th October, 2022

Cabinet call-in: school funding

An extraordinary meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s schools and learning overview and scrutiny committee is being held tomorrow afternoon.

It’s to probe decisions made at last week’s extraordinary cabinet meeting on a new school’s funding, after I called in the topic for further scrutiny with the support of five other councillors.

The story begins, for these purposes, in October 2020 – when full council gave the green light to a new Pembroke-based Welsh medium school, Ysgol Bro Penfro, on the basis that it would receive “100% capital funding from Welsh Government.”

Plans for the age 5-11 school, on land near the area’s new English-medium secondary, Henry Tudor School, were granted approval in February this year by the authority’s planning committee.

Some councillors there expressed great concerns about the highway implications of this site, on land that was formerly home to Henry Tudor’s predecessor, Bush comprehensive.

But the traffic implications are mere bagatelle compared to the financial black hole that now needs to be filled.

The report to cabinet members last week says the proposed costs of Ysgol Bro Penfro’s new build have now more than doubled, to nearly £14m.

The Welsh Government has agreed to plug much of the gap, but says the council must cough up £3m – which obviously isn’t planned for.

In fact this is being demanded of PCC with the threat: if you don’t make up the £3m difference, you’ll be excluded from future bids under Band B of the devolved government’s 21st Century Schools funding programme.

Some nerve, considering Ysgol Bro Penfro was never a 21st Century Schools project in the first place.

Cabinet made a reluctant but collective admission that they were over a barrel.

Only Cllr. Tessa Hodgson felt strongly enough to vote against, but all others agreed that she had raised fair points. Their unease was palpable.

I don’t think there’s a Pembrokeshire councillor who’s led or taken part in more cabinet decision call-ins than me. This one is my first in quite a while.

After duly gaining the necessary six members’ signatures, I fired off my email.

Within minutes I’d heard back from the education scrutiny committee’s chairman, Cllr. Huw Murphy.

He’s not only supportive of this call-in to his committee, but said he wanted to add his own “signature to the request,” alongside mine and councillors Mike Stoddart, Steve Alderman, John Cole, Alan Dennison and Vivien Stoddart.

That someone so closely associated with promotion of the Welsh language has loaned his support to calling-in cabinet’s decision on Ysgol Bro Penfro will, I hope, leave no room for speculation that the call-in meeting is anything to do with the merits or otherwise of Welsh-medium education.

There are obvious financial implications of cabinet’s decision, and possibly limited options, but I believe the issue raises a more fundamental constitutional problem.

Cabinet has effectively overridden full council’s October 2020 decision, which was based on the clear premise that the new-build project would receive “100% capital funding from Welsh Government.”

The report to members at that time included the categorical:

“The proposal and capital funding are inter-dependent; the proposal cannot proceed without 100% capital funding from Welsh Government, and the funding will not be forthcoming without establishing a stand-alone Welsh medium school in Pembroke.”

It is no longer true to say that the project will receive “100% capital funding from Welsh Government,” so I say that this movement of the goalposts means it should return to full council for final determination.

I reproduce the full text of my call-in request below. The report to Friday’s call-in meeting can be read at this link.

The extraordinary schools and learning overview and scrutiny committee meeting begins at 2pm on Friday, 28th October, and will be live-streamed (and subsequently archived) at this link.

Four grounds of call-in request:

To examine the reasons for the uplift in the cost of the project from an initial £6.65 million to the latest estimate of £13.9 million (with particular emphasis on the apportionment of the additional claimed costs between inflation and site-specific conditions) with a view to evaluating the financial implications of transferring the development to another less challenging site – which does not appear to have been considered by cabinet.

To seek to establish the true contractual position, given the discrepancies between the report to cabinet on 17th October 2022 (which implies that negotiations are ongoing) and a report published within The Construction Index, dated 9 March 2022 (https://www.theconstructionindex.co.uk/news/view/morgan-sindall-wins-14m-welsh-school-contract) which seems to indicate that the contract has been finalised.

To seek assurances from officers that this unscheduled requirement for some £3 million from the council’s own capital funds, to make up the Ysgol Bro Penfro shortfall, will not impact adversely on other aspects of the council’s capital programme.

To clarify the constitutional position regarding cabinet’s purported decision. When full council initially approved the project at its 8th October 2020 meeting, councillors were told:

“The opportunity to access a 100% capital grant from Welsh Government to establish a new Welsh Medium school with associated childcare facilities should not be lost.”

Perhaps most compellingly, the report which gained full council approval explicitly pointed out that:

“The proposal and capital funding are inter-dependent; the proposal cannot proceed without 100% capital funding from Welsh Government, and the funding will not be forthcoming without establishing a stand-alone Welsh medium school in Pembroke.”

Given the material changes in circumstances since full council’s approval – that the same scheme now requires the authority to commit £3 million of its own resources – it is no longer true to state that Ysgol Bro Penfro is subject to “100% capital funding from Welsh Government.”

This raises obvious questions over whether cabinet’s decision invalidates the original full council resolution, and undermines the basis on which full council loaned its support to the scheme. This would in turn mean the decisions made by cabinet on 17th October could not have been decisions of an executive nature, and should instead have come before full council. We believe that the Schools and Learning O&S Committee will be well placed to scrutinise this aspect of the decision-making, as well as the merits of cabinet’s decision, on behalf of all elected members and the public.


  • Martin Lewis

    They need to ditch this plan for three reasons;

    1. There is no need for a Welsh medium school in Pembroke, it’s an almost exclusively English speaking town.

    2. The Welsh government’s nationalist agenda is too costly.

    3. They need to keep the money in their coffers to fund the MASSIVE overspend on the “transport hub” bus station and car park which will inevitably be coming. They want to sack the official “estimator of cost of works” at PCC and replace him with a 5 year old with a pen, pad & calculator.

  • John Hudson

    Can we please be clear about the council’s constitutional financial rules and regulations governing the approval of annual budgets and projects for which funding is unclear?

  • Flashbang

    Lot of money for social engineering that very few want or need. Better spent on necessities than vanity projects.

  • Pembs. Exile

    “Here we go”. “Here we go”. Who rules in Pembrokeshire?

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