Welsh Liberal Democrats locally have accused RCT Council of a complete lack of understanding of the purpose of a major Welsh Government education grant and say they are misleading the public.
The Council have, as part of the papers being considered by the Cabinet on 8th January, published an equality impact assessment on each of the proposals they put forward under phase one of their cuts programme.
The report contains suggestions as to how the negative effects could be mitigated. In the case of nursery education cuts one suggestion is that "Schools may also wish to consider utilising funding, such as the Pupil Deprivation Grant, in implementing alternative methods of delivering the service."
Trallwn Councillor Mike Powell says
"The Pupil Deprivation Grant was introduced as a result of Welsh Liberal Democrat negotiations with the Welsh Labour Government. It puts extra money in to schools for every pupil on free school meals in order to try and close the attainment gap that traditionally exists between children from more deprived backgrounds. It is there for a specific purpose and calculated according to specific criteria - free school meals pupils of statutory school age.
"There have already been calls from all political parties to ensure that this money is being spent for the purpose for which it was intended. Now whilst it could be argued that full time nursery education is certainly essential to help address the inequalities experienced by children from deprived backgrounds, it is not the purpose behind this grant.
"It is a suggestion that was made in a letter to the press by the Labour AM for Pontypridd recently and which he presumably put to the Council. He really should know better."
The Pupil Deprivation Grant was introduced as a result of budget negotiations between the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Welsh Government two years ago. This year further negotiations saw it more than doubled to £918 for each pupil eligible for free school meals. It will see schools in RCT receive £7,183,350 in direct payments to help them close the attainment gap.
RCT's Welsh Liberal Democrat Campaign manager Karen Roberts says it is unbelievable that this suggestion should even appear in an official report
"As much as we want to see full time nursery education retained that is not the purpose of this grant and this Council cannot just ignore guidelines and use it as it wishes.
"I have spoken to our education spokesperson at the Assembly, Aled Roberts AM, who in turn has brought the matter to the attention of the Education Minister. The Council will be reminded I am sure that they cannot do this, and it is irresponsible for them to suggest it."
The equality impact assessments form part of the consultation feedback which will be considered by the Cabinet as part of their decision making process on whether to progress their first round cuts which include closure of libraries and day centres, cut backs in youth provision and an end to weekend meals on wheels deliveries.
In each case the conclusion was that "this Equality Impact Assessment has provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that due regard has been given to the 'duty' placed on the Council in this respect and that there are no grounds based on equality considerations that prevent the consideration of service change proposals."
In other words they are free to go ahead and do what they wish as the knock-on effects of the proposals are not considered to be of any real significance.
The Cabinet on 8th January, published an equality impact assessment on each of the proposals they put forward under phase one of their cuts programme.