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Budget threat to jobs

Unions gear up for strike action over mass redundancy fears as local authorities slash spending. James Graham reports

Budget cuts have raised the spectre of mass teacher redundancies and strike action across Wales. Teaching unions said they were "gravely concerned"

about tighter budgets for the 2006-7 financial year which could lead to "hundreds" of redundancies.

Teachers' union the NASUWT Cymru is considering industrial action to protect jobs in the Vale of Glamorgan and Powys. Its secretary Geraint Davies said schools were being hit by the decision - in 18 of the 22 authorities - to pass an Assembly government requirement for 1 per cent efficiency savings directly to schools.

He acknowledged that falling rolls had an impact on staff numbers but stressed the direct effect of the cuts, citing Denbighshire, where secondary schools will each lose pound;30-40,000 from budgets.

He added: "We're having indicative ballots because we're serious about maintaining the level of spending, protecting jobs and protecting the standards agenda."

Jane Davidson, education, lifelong learning and skills minister, has said efficiencies must come from better management, not cutting services to the public.

In a letter to teaching unions, she said: "Efficiency gains must reflect genuine and sustainable business improvements. Merely cutting budgets allocated to third parties (including schools) will not suffice."

But local authorities argue their budgets are top-sliced by the Assembly government so they have to spread the burden. It expects all authorities to make a 1 per cent saving between 2005-8 as part of a drive to save pound;600 million by 2010 across all public bodies.

In Powys, a cut of 2.5 per cent (pound;1.5m) to the delegated school budget has galvanised parents, teachers, governors and the unions, which predict 70 redundancies. The cut reflects efficiency savings as well as the authority channelling more money into social services.

Gethin Lewis, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, called it a "settlement of despair" in a county where a third of school budgets were in deficit last year. A council spokesman said it was based on priorities.

In the Vale of Glamorgan, the 1 per cent efficiency saving equated to Pounds 729,000, leaving an increase of pound;1.53m, or 2.6 per cent. The school budget forum calculated schools needed a 3.4 per cent rise to stand still. In Rhondda Cynon Taf, the authority said schools, "like every other service", shouldered a 1 per cent cut.

In Gwynedd, the council has passed on a 0.5 per cent saving, increasing pressure on resources through falling rolls. Neil Foden, head of Ysgol Friars, Bangor, anticipates redundancies in two secondary schools and at least 12 primaries.

Wrexham and Cardiff were among the authorities that have protected education from the cuts.

Brian Rowlands, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said redundancies were likely to run into the hundreds, primarily because of efficiency savings.

"Falling rolls is an issue, but the direct transference of the 1 per cent to schools is causing big problems."

Steve Bowden, head of Porth community school, Rhondda, said static budgets failed to take account of rises in energy costs.

He added: "Schools are having to reduce their teaching force to match the demographic downturn, but in some this year's settlement will mean redundancies."

Chris Llewelyn, head of education at the Welsh Local Government Association, said Assembly government guidance indicated efficiency savings should apply to all local government functions, including schools.

He said: "Councils can pass efficiency targets on to schools. However, savings should be made in back-office functions rather than front-line services."

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