THE recent letter from Penarth head teachers about school funding in the Vale of Glamorgan has understandably caught public attention.

Our son attends a local primary school and I completely understand why parents and carers are concerned about the message from head teachers.

I recently met the Penarth cluster head teachers to hear directly from them about the pressure on school budgets.

Parents were encouraged to contact me so I think it’s appropriate that I respond publicly.

I don’t want to respond with a party political response but I do want to set out honestly how the choices made at UK Government, Welsh Government and the Vale council affect school funding.

It is an undeniable fact that as we enter the 10th year of UK Government austerity our spending choices are more and more difficult.

The Welsh Government has £1.2billion less to spend as a result.

To be fair the Conservative leader of the Vale council has said in correspondence with me and in a public council meeting that he wants austerity to stop.

We have made different choices in Wales compared to England.

The Welsh Government has chosen to prioritise health spending in our budget.

That means that the £1.2billion cut in our budget has affected local government and schools.

Local government and schools spending has been much better protected in Wales. In England the local government budget has seen cuts that are twice as large as here in Wales and school spending has been much better protected.

When I met Penarth head teachers I was honest about our choice to protect NHS spending.

Health has consistently been the top priority of the public and I still face demands from all parties to spend even more money on the NHS.

To deliver significantly more money for schools and the local government budget would mean taking money out of the NHS.

Keeping our commitment to the NHS affects every other public service, including our schools. That is the reality of nearly a decade of austerity.

That does not mean that schools have been abandoned.

For example the Welsh Government chose to increase funding to our 21st Century Schools programme. That means more new schools like the Penarth Learning Community and thanks to the budget deal secured by Labour councillors more money to renovate Victorian schools in the Vale.

This year changes to teachers pensions by the UK Government have created a multi-million pound hole in school budgets. The UK Government only passed on 85 per cent of the costs to Wales. The Welsh Government funded the missing 15 per cent but that is money that can’t be spent somewhere else.

Despite the fact that local government in Wales has a much better funding deal than across the border in England I recognise that our councils have an incredibly difficult challenge setting a budget.

We all saw that in the Vale, where nearly half the ruling Conservative group refused to back the budget proposal from their own leadership. There is a choice to be made between reducing services or raising council tax. Even after council tax rises most councils are still reducing services.

Education and social services are the largest spending areas for local councils. Each council decides their own spending priorities and different councils have made different choices.

The local funding formula for schools in the Vale was reviewed and simplified by the previous Labour administration and agreed by local head teachers. It’s simpler and more transparent as a result.

It’s disappointing that the Vale Council leadership refuses to recognise that it has any responsibility for school funding choices. For example Cardiff council has put a larger proportion of its budget into schools than the Vale.

I welcome the Welsh Government review into the local authority funding formula. The wider review should provide an updated picture.

However that in itself does not mean that there will be more money flowing into school budgets in the Vale.

That still comes back to choices about how much money we are prepared to invest in our public services rather than a competition between public services that each of us value.