Loughborough Echo

Council set for £2m showdown with schools over funds shortfall


- News Reporter By DAN MARTIN

LEICESTERS­HIRE County Council is bracing itself for a battle with schools over its plans to tackle an anticipate­d deficit of tens of millions of pounds in its special needs education budget.

Senior officials have warned the rising demand and costs of providing special educationa­l needs and disabiliti­es (Send) education in the county have made funding the system unsustaina­ble and likely to mean the amount spent will outstrip the money available by £43 million by 2024.

This is despite cost-cutting plans that have already saved £24 million in recent years.

The projected £43 million deficit was this week described as the most significan­t short-term financial risk to the county council.

Send education is funded from a council pot of cash called the high needs block, while mainstream education in the county is paid for from a separate schools block.

The county council is now to ask the Leicesters­hire Schools Forum, a group of senior head teachers and governors from mainstream county schools, if it can transfer 0.5 per cent of the schools block cash – about £2 million – to the special educationa­l needs fund in the next financial year.

For that to happen, the council must secure the forum’s agreement. The body rejected a similar proposal last year.

Should the forum refuse again, the council is likely to appeal to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to approve the move anyway.

Conservati­ve deputy council leader Councillor Debra Taylor is the cabinet member for children and families.

She said other councils were also facing the difficult decision of having to take money from mainstream schooling to pay for special needs education.

She said: “I do understand why school leaders will not be happy with this proposal, which also goes against my own thoughts.”

She said she anticipate­d “pushback” against the county council’s proposal. She said: “We need to show the government we have done all we can to get the overspend under control.

“We asked last year but the schools forum didn’t agree to the transfer and we did advise them, at that point, if the overspend continued we would have no option but to request a transfer this year.

“It’s with a very heavy heart that we do this.”

Coun Taylor pledged to get the deficit under control and continue to lobby ministers for more money and to make them aware of the county council’s situation. The council’s cabinet member for finance, Councillor Lee Breckon, said: “The resource implicatio­ns of the £43 million deficit, despite the delivery of £24 million of revenue savings, is the most significan­t short-term risk faced by this county council.”

He said the deficit could be carried on the books for a time but would ultimately have to be financed, then causing an immediate impact on the financial resilience of the council and funding available for all the services it provides.

The council’s director of children and young people, Jane Moore, told a cabinet meeting: “‘Demand for places is the most significan­t driver of the cost and therefore the deficit. The Send system isn’t sustainabl­e in its current format and presents a significan­t risk to the local authority.”

She said it was hoped, but not expected, that a long-awaited national review of the Send system would deliver some of the needed changes.

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