West Berkshire Council

Agenda item

High Needs Block Budget 2021/22 (Jane Seymour)

Minutes:

(Gemma Piper re-joined the meeting)

Jane Seymour introduced the report (Agenda Item 9), which set out the current financial position of the high needs budget for 2020/21, the position known so far for 2021/22, including the likely shortfall, together with savings options for 2021-22 and recommendations on the continuation of Invest to Save projects agreed by the Schools Forum for 2020-21.

Jane Seymour reported that there had already been a large amount of discussion on the High Needs Block at both the Heads’ Funding Group and Schools’ Forum.

Jane Seymour drew attention to section 3.5 of the report and stressed the Local Authority’s statutory duties for children with SEND were effectively open ended. If a children required an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) then this must be provided regardless of budgetary constraints. The number of children with EHCPs was increasing, in spite of the threshold for an EHCP remaining the same and being applied robustly.

Jane Seymour reported that there had been a rise in EHCPs in West Berkshire of 31% between 2015 and 2020 and the HNB budget had not risen at the same rate. Appendix D to the report showed that most of this increase was in EHCPs in specialist placements rather than mainstream schools, which was what was primarily driving the HNB budget pressure. There were plans through the SEND Strategy to create more local provision for children with SEMH and autism, which would alleviate the pressure to some extent as local maintained provision was most cost effective. It was however, also critical that mainstream schools were supported to maintain more children with SEND in mainstream settings, if the HNB overspend was to be effectively addressed.

Jane Seymour drew attention to section 3.10 of the report, which detailed that the net shortfall in the 2021-22 HNB budget, was £3,960,618.Without the carried forward overspends, the shortfall in 2021-22 would be £1,123,298.

Key pressures on the HNB were detailed within Appendix A to the report. The greatest area of pressure was Top Up Funding with Independent Special Schools causing the greatest pressure on the budget, mainly due to large numbers of SEMH and ASD specialist placements. This was followed by maintained special schools. Non WBC special schools and free special schools were other areas of significant pressure. There were many strategies in place to address these pressures and help children remain in mainstream schools including Therapeutic Thinking and the other invest to save projects. Regarding the projected overspend, Jane Seymour reported that the aim was to bring a report to the next meeting in March 2021, which provided some predictions regarding how spend could be reduced overtime including investment in mainstream schools to reduce the level of children moving out of this area. 

Jane Seymour drew attention to invest to save projects for 2020/21, which were detailed under section six of the report. The projects included the recruitment of a Therapeutic Thinking Officer; increasing the Vulnerable Children Fund (VCF) and expanding the ASD Advisory Team. Evaluation data was included on each of the projects apart from for expansion ASD Team as this had needed to be delayed due to Covid-19. Success criteria was also set out for the coming year.

Jane Seymour highlighted that Appendix B to the report looked as possible saving option, which involved non statutory services. The HFG had been of the view that these were preventative services and if cut would only increase pressure further on HNB. The HFG had been in favour of taking an invest to save approach to reduce the deficit overtime.

The Chairman invited the Schools’ Forum to look in detail at each of the saving proposals under Appendix B. A vote was carried out on each area of potential saving and none of the saving options were supported by the Forum.

The Chairman invited the Schools’ Forum to consider the invest to save proposals contained within the report. Jon Hewitt recommended the invest to save projects be approved and this was seconded by Sheila Loy. At the vote the motion was carried.

RESOLVED that:

·         The Schools’ Forum did not support any of the saving options detailed in Appendix B to the report.

·         The Schools’ Forum supported recommendation on invest to save projects detailed under section six of Appendix A of the report.

·         The Schools’ Forum noted the predicted shortfall in the HNB.

Supporting documents: