West Berkshire Council

Agenda item

High Needs Block Budget 2020/21 (Jane Seymour)

Minutes:

Ian Pearson introduced the report, which set out the current financial position of the High Needs Block (HNB) budget for 2019/20 and the position known so far for 2020/21, including the likely shortfall. It also set out the invest to save proposals, which were agreed by the Schools’ Forum on 20th January 2020.

Savings of £219k had been implemented in 2017/18 and a further £306k in 2018/19. However, despite these savings a budget was set in 2018/19, which included a planned overspend of £703k. The budget set for 2019/20 included a planned overspend of £1.6m.

Ian Pearson drew attention to section 3.7 of the report, which provided a more comprehensive picture of the shortfall. The net shortfall in the 2020/21 HNB budget was £3,539,176 and this included the predicted 2019/20 overspend of £2,174,560.

Appendix A to the report on page 22, provided further detail on the budget and reasons for the pressure on the 2020/21 HNB budget. There was also detail regarding the invest to save options, which could be funded through the 0.25% transfer of funding from the Schools’ Block to the HNB.

Page 25 of the report provided details of the pressures being faced by the HNB including increasing pupil numbers at special schools and increases in the number of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). The cost of a single EHCP had risen along with the number of EHCPs overall. The number of EHCPs had risen to 1026 as highlighted under section 2.6 of the report.

There were predicted underspends within further education (section 2.11) and independent special schools (2.12) and this would help in efforts to offset the overspend.

Ian Pearson explained that a report was due to come to the next meeting of the Forum, which would review how iCollege was funded.

Table four on page 28 of the report detailed budgets for other statutory services. Page 30 detailed non statutory services, which played a huge part in preventative work across the area of high needs.

Section six of the report included detail on the invest to save proposals, which had been discussed at the last meeting of the Forum in January 2020 including the potential impact they could have. Evaluation and impact data for teams operating within the area of high needs was included on page 37 of the report. Agreement of the HNB budget was being sought so that work could commence.

Reverend Mark Bennet noted the £3.6m deficit and queried how this deficit was being funded. Melanie Ellis confirmed that the money came from the Council’s general funds however, there was not indefinite capacity for this to continue. Ian Pearson added that the DfE made it clear that Local Authorities were not liable for the deficit and that this sat with the DSG. Reverend Mark Bennet asked if any interest was being charged on the funding being loaned from the Local Authority for the deficit and Melanie Ellis confirmed that no interest was being charged at the current time. Guidance was due out on this point in the near future so Melanie Ellis would review the guidance and report back to a future Forum meeting.

Jonathon Chishick referred to Table 1 under Appendix A and raised a query regarding the number of planned places at Special Schools - Pre 16 and Special Schools - post 16, which were 286 and 79 respectively however, the current number of pupils was 405. Ian Pearson stated that the figures of 79 and 286 was the number of places with funding attached. Any remaining places had to be funded by the HNB.

Jonathon Chishick noted that the post 16 special school budget had increased by 50% however, the number of places had remained the same. Ian Pearson explained that although the number of funded planned places would remain the same the pupil numbers would change. Post 16 settings could be expensive, particularly if they were independent settings. When comparing year on year figures it was important to note that although the same age group were being referred to, it was likely that it would be a different group of students, who would require funding differently.

The Chairman invited Members to consider whether the HNB deficit budget for 2020/21 should be agreed as set out in section 2.1 of the report. Jon Hewitt proposed that the Schools’ Forum agreed the deficit budget for 2020/21 and this was seconded by Sheila Loy. At the vote the motion was carried.

RESOLVED that:

·         The Schools’ Forum agreed the HNB deficit budget for 2020/21 and noted the predicted shortfall.

·         Melanie Ellis would review guidance regarding the charging of interest and report back to a future Forum meeting.

Supporting documents: