West Berkshire Council

Agenda item

Draft High Needs Budget 2021/22 (Jane Seymour)

Minutes:

Jane Seymour introduced the report (Agenda Item 12), which set out the current financial position of the high needs budget for 2020/21 and the position known so far for 2021/22, including the likely shortfall.

Jane Seymour drew attention to section three of the report, which provided some background and detailed how the budget had not kept pace with demand. This was an issue being faced by West Berkshire and nationally. A number of savings had been implemented across the block in 2017/18 and 2018/19 and these were set out in section 3.3 of the report. It had since been found that some of these savings had been counterproductive and had led to an increase in expenditure on strategic SEND services.

There had been a significant increase in the number of children with SEND, both in those children below the threshold for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and also in those requiring an EHCP. In particular there had been a rise in the number of children with autism and social and emotional mental health (SEMH) needs.  Jane Seymour reported that over the last five years there had been an increase of 26% in children needing an EHCP however, in mainstream schools there had only been a rise of 5%. The largest rise was within specialist settings, which were very expensive.

Jane Seymour drew attention to section 3.7 of the report which detailed the net shortfall for the HNB budget. The deficit included an overspend that had been rolled forward for three years, which took the total net shortfall for 2021/22 to £3.9m. If these overspends had not needed to be rolled forward then the shortfall in 2021/22 would be around £849k. 

Jane Seymour reported that although savings had been made against the HNB in recent years, the Local Authority had a number of statutory duties that it had to provide children with SEND in line with the 2014 Children and Families Act and therefore expenditure was needs driven. If a child met the criteria for an EHCP then this provision had to be put in place regardless of budgetary restraints.

Jane Seymour drew attention to section 3.9 of the report, which provided detail on the SEN Strategy and the five key priority areas. The aim was to bring costs down in the block in a range of ways. One aim was to improve local provision through the strategy and this would involve improving provision within mainstream schools and creating more in house provision, particularly for children with Autism and SEMH. A new provision was planned to open in September 2022, or possibly earlier.

Jane Seymour drew attention to Appendix A which provided more detail on each of the budgets included within the HNB and the reasons for the pressure on the 2020-21 budget. Regarding Place Funding, 12 additional places were required and funding for this would need to be top sliced from the HNB budget. More detail on this was included under section one to Appendix A.

Jane Seymour explained that Top Up Funding was the largest pressure within the block, with placements at independent special schools and maintained special schools causing the greatest pressure. This could be seen in detail under section two of the report.

Jane Seymour reported section 2.6 of the report included a proposal for special schools for 2021/22 that they should be paid the full £10k for each additional place and this had been allowed for in the projected 2021-22 costs. Special Schools had also put forward a case for further additional funding, which would be brought as a report to the next Schools’ Forum in January 2021.

Jane Seymour explained that the report detailed the other areas of pressure within Top Up Funding from section 2.7 of the report. 

Section three of the report provided detail on the pressure facing Pupil Referral Units (PRUs). There was a pressure of about £14k in this area for children requiring EHCPs. A new provision for pupils with EHCPs was set up in 2019 and placements at this setting were usually more cost effective than independent and non-maintained special schools placements.

Detail on other statutory services and non-statutory services could be found under section four and five of Appendix A. Jane Seymour referred to Table 5 on page 83 which showed the non statutory costs and currently included the additional funding that was agreed in 2020/21 for invest to save projects. This funding had not yet been agreed for 2021/22 and therefore this information could be removed if necessary.

A report would be brought to the next round of meetings in January 2021, which included savings options for consideration. Ian Pearson added that the report was not for decision at this time. Dialogue would be kept with the different schools phases to discuss how the issues could be addressed. Dialogue would also be required with the DfE. 

Ian Pearson referred to the decision taken to transfer funding from the Schools’ Block the HNB in 2020/21. Consultation had taken place with the Schools’ Forum regarding what this funding should be spent on. Going forward here was not an assumption that this money should be used for what it was assigned to previously and schools would ultimately be able to decide what the funding was used for in 2021/22. The overall aim was improve service whilst ensuring they were more efficient and cost effective.

RESOLVED that the Schools’ Forum noted the report, which would be brought back to the next meeting in January 2021 for decision.   

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