West Berkshire Council

Agenda item

Schools Funding Formula 2021/22 (Melanie Ellis)

Minutes:

Melanie Ellis introduced the report (Agenda Item 6), which sought agreement to the final school funding formula allocations for 2021/22.

Melanie Ellis highlighted that the report set out the criteria that had been agreed for allocating the formula funding, which had been agreed by the Schools’ Forum in December 2020. Since this meeting the final allocations had been received from the DSG and these were shown under table in section 4.1 of the report. The Local Authority had been awarded £600k in growth funding and section five of the report detailed how the Growth Fund was calculated. As it was within the Schools Block, movement of funding between the formula and the Growth Fund was permitted

Some analysis had been undertaken on the cumulative balance of the Growth Fund and with the funding from the previous year it was estimated that the balance of the fund by the end of March 2021 would be about £1.2m. As the projected balance was considered to be sufficient to meet growth it was not felt that the further £600k was required and therefore two options were proposed for consideration:

a)    Put the full 2021/22 allocation into the schools funding formula to allocate to schools, or;

b)    Use £274k of the 2021/22 growth fund to increase the High Needs Block (HNB) transfer from 0.25% as previously agreed to 0.5%, and put the remaining balance of £330k into the school formula and allocation to schools.

 

Melanie Ellis added that if option (b) was chosen then money transferred to the HNB could be used for ‘invest to save’ purposes.

Ian Pearson explained that a discussion had taken place at the Heads’ Funding Group (HFG) and it had been suggested that some of the Growth Fund allocation for 2021/22 could further support efforts to drive down the deficit in the HNB. Ian Pearson had discussed this with Jane Seymour and asked her to comment on if there were any particular areas that could be targeted with the funding if agreed. Jane Seymour reported that there was a report under agenda item nine on the HNB that included a number of current invest to save proposals. It was being requested that funding for these projects was ongoing and therefore any growth funding transferred to the HNB could be used for these areas. Regarding other potential uses of the money, one difficulty was that much of the funding required within the SEND Strategy required ongoing funding rather than one off amounts. Jane Seymour stated however, that the Forum might wish to use some of the funding to support resourced schools because the pressure faced by this area was high. Further consideration could be given to what other areas could be funded on a one off basis. Ian Pearson stated that if recommendation (b) was approved then a further report would be brought to the Forum for consideration that included detail on how the funding could be used.

Gemma Piper raised a question on the reporting factor of a further transfer. It was clear from guidance that a transfer needed to be in line with deficit recovery plans. Gemma Piper queried if anything further would be brought to the Forum on the strategic oversight of savings and sought clarity on this point.

In response to Gemma Piper’s question Ian Pearson reported that there were two options. Firstly the funding could be used to pay down some of the deficit in the HNB. The other preferred approach that could be taken would be to add the funding to a deficit recovery plan/framework that would support activities that would reduce costs in the HNB overtime. There was an issue about the funding being one off however, this applied to any funding transferred to the HNB, including the 0.25% that had already been agreed in December 2020.

Reverend Mark Bennet referred to discussions that had taken place regarding deficit recovery in the past and he noted at some point the expectation was that this would be externally monitored. He sought clarity on what the current position was in terms of the need to provide a deficit recovery plan and when there would need to be accountability for how funding was being used. Ian Pearson explained that the Department for Education (DfE) was measuring deficits against a local authorities overall DSG balance. In West Berkshire the pressure predominately rested in the HNB. A deficit was looked at in proportion to an areas total spend and some areas had deficits that exceeded their HNB budgets. West Berkshire was not currently in this position as the overall deficit was about £3.94m against the overall DSG balance of £25m. Ian Pearson reported that the aim was to bring a report to the next meeting which showed detail on the deficits being faced by other local authorities.

West Berkshire had not yet been approached by the DfE regarding its deficit but was aware that conversations were being sought and had been made aware of the thresholds being used. The DfE had recognised that it was a broad problem being faced. Any contact from the DfE would be reported in due course.

Councillor Dominic Boeck noted under section 2.2 of the report that the final funding formula rates and allocation were subject to political ratification, but it would not be referred to the Council’s Executive. Melanie Ellis confirmed that the matter was due to be dealt with by Councillor Ross Mackinnon as an Individual Member Decision.

Ian Nichol referred to items 14 (a) and (b) on the agenda, which considered increasing numbers of schools facing deficit and the pressure on schools’ budgets caused by Covid-19. He queried if consideration had been given to using the £604k of growth funding as part of the Schools’ in Financial Difficulty Fund (SFDF) due to the size of the issue facing schools as the lockdown progressed. Ian Pearson noted the valid point as more schools were facing a potential deficit but not for the reasons the SFDF was originally created for. Ian Pearson suggested that the Forum might wish to postpone the decision until Agenda Item 14.

Catie Colston queried if the HFG had expressed a preference over options (a) or (b). Ian Pearson confirmed that option (b), which included awarding some of the funding to the HNB, was generated by the HFG but it had been felt that the options should be taken forward to the Forum for consideration.

Gemma Piper stated that she had been of the understanding from the HFG meeting that more work was going to be carried out in time for the Forum to show the impact of the funding overtime and asked for clarification on this. Ian Pearson clarified that Keith Harvey had raised option (b) at the HFG and it had been suggested that this be considered at the Forum. How the funding could be used if agreed was a separate issue for consideration and would be included within the next HNB report being brought to the Forum in March 2021.  It was confirmed that a decision regarding schools funding formula needed to be taken at the current meeting.

The Chairman suggested that a vote needed to be taken based on the recommendations set out in the report. Further work would be required regarding how the funding would be targeted if money was transferred to the HNB. Moira Fraser noted that a suggestion had been raised to defer the vote on the recommendations set out in 2.1 of the report until Agenda Item 14 was considered.

Melanie Ellis clarified that the vote that was required was for all schools however, if the SFDF was to be considered as a possible use of the funding then this would be for consideration by primary schools only. Therefore Melanie Ellis was of the view that a vote needed to be taken on the recommendation in 2.1 first. Primary schools would then need to take a decision on whether they wished to place growth funding in the SFDF.

Jonathan Chishick noted that consideration was required on whether transfer a further £274k to the HNB. This would leave £330k to be allocated out to schools and could be devoted to issues faced as a result of Covid-19.

The Chairman invited members of the Forum to consider whether they were in favour option (a) or (b). At the vote recommendation (b), which included increasing the HNB transfer to 0.5% and allocating the remaining funding to schools was agreed.

RESOLVED that

  • Option (b) as set out in section 2.1 of the report was agreed. 
  • The Schools’ Forum noted the final formula rates and allocations to schools, which were subject to political ratification on 28th February 2021.

Supporting documents: