ISSUES with school finances across Monmouthshire are being downplayed, it has been claimed, after a report revealed that more than half are failing to break even.

Eighteen of the county council’s 34 primary and secondary schools are currently running a budget deficit.

And at the end of the last financial year, the schools had a collective deficit of £435,000.

Councillors raised concerns at a full council meeting, with Cllr Armand Watts saying:  “There’s clearly something very wrong. The deficit clearly has gone up.

“We have gone from having 15 schools to 18 schools this year (in a deficit position).

“That means half of the schools are being asked to run a school with not enough money.

“I have never in the history of me being at this authority ever come across stats where we have had over 50 per cent of our schools in deficit

“There’s clearly something very wrong and I think you’ve downplayed it.

“If that is not a risk, or a potential risk, then I don’t know what is.

“You need to think about investing more time, effort and money into protecting our schools because this is completely unacceptable.”

The chief officer for children and young people, Will McLean, said: “I apologise if members think I underplayed that position - I clearly recognised it was a risk.

“I think that everybody working in the system works tirelessly to make sure their children achieve the very best they can.

“We know the challenges the authority faces in regard to its budget and we will continue to make sure we make the best case we can to get the schools funding.”

The leader of Monmouthshire’s Labour group, Cllr Dimitri Batrouni, said that if investment into schools had kept up with inflation, then £63 million would have been invested this year.

However, according to StatsWales only £54 million had been invested.

“That’s just shy of £10 million short than if we had just kept with inflation,” Cllr Batrouni said.

“That’s a hell of a drop.

“We need to have a serious conversation.”

The leader of Monmouthshire council, Cllr Peter Fox, said he recognised that there were challenges in the report.

He said: “There has been significant progress made, we have some of the best performing schools in Wales.

“But we do have more to do and we recognise that.

“Funding is really challenging, our commitment to fund in education has been solid in Monmouthshire.

“We have done the best we can with the resources we have got.”

The council’s cabinet member for education Cllr Richard John pointed out that Monmouthshire is the worst funded local authority in Wales.

Cllr John said: “On top of that, in recently years we consistently get the single worst settlement of the 22 councils

“If we were funded to the level of the average funded council in Wales that would mean an additional £30 million for Monmouthshire in one year alone.

“We would love to put more money into schools, but we have to operate within the confines we are in.

“If we were to try and find an additional £9 million to put into schools where do we take that from? You would be looking at an 18 per cent increase in council tax.”