Councillors to discuss funding for SEND pupils
A five-year plan to ensure children with special educational needs (SEND) can continue to receive the support they need will be outlined to councillors next week.
The council's Cabinet will receive an update on the current SEND spend and priority project areas, as well as the ongoing efforts to lobby the Government for additional funding, when members meet on Wednesday 8 July.
Each year, the council receives a Dedicated Schools Grant from the Government to support its school budget. This includes funding for SEND and inclusion support services for children and young people, known as the High Needs Block (HNB).
In recent years this part of the budget has come under increased financial pressure due to a combination of austerity and SEND reforms, which increased the age range children receive support to 0 to 25.
At the same time, the needs of children and young people have become more complex, resulting in local authorities across the country having insufficient resources to provide this vital support.
£8.6 million overspend
In County Durham, in 2019/20, there was an overspend of £8.6 million against the HNB funding allocation. However, this was less than the £9.4 million forecasted. The council funded £5.6 million of the overspend from its general reserves, with the remaining £2.7 million increasing its HNB deficit from £3 million to £5.7 million and rolling over to the next financial year.
At next week's virtual meeting, Cabinet will be asked to approve a proposed five-year plan to ensure future spending is kept to within available resources and the deficit is recovered over this time. The plan also responds to legislation introduced in February which requires councils to cover deficits from within future dedicated school grants.
Cabinet will be asked to agree to the plan being regularly reviewed and updated, including considering any impacts from the coronavirus pandemic and the recovery period.
Members will also hear about the projects being taken forward to make the service more sustainable, following a consultation last year, along with the council's continuing efforts to lobby the Government for much-needed additional funding for young people with SEND.
Financial pressure continues
Cllr Olwyn Gunn, the council's Cabinet member for children and young people's services, has written to the Secretary of State for Education numerous times to highlight local issues. The most recent letter was sent in March 2020.
She said: "It is vital the Government provides sufficient funding to local authorities to ensure vulnerable children and those with special educational needs get the support required to give them the very best start in life.
"The pressure on HNB funding continues to increase and, while we have been able to subsidise this using our reserves in previous years, this is not sustainable and now requires permission from the Secretary of State. In the North East, we face many unique challenges and I will continue to do everything I can to highlight these issues and lobby the Government for the funding our area so desperately needs
"This is even more important as we start to recover after the coronavirus pandemic and more children and young people return to schools and colleges. We are concerned that some young people may need additional support and resources, and this may cause even more pressure on the budget we currently have available."
Cabinet will meet virtually at 9.30am on Wednesday 8 July. Watch our Cabinet meeting live online.