County councils face £1.3bn special needs deficit

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, June 30, 2021

County councils are facing a “spiralling deficit” in their special education needs and disabilities (SEND) budgets that is set to increase to £1.3bn in two years’ time, research has warned.

Councils have urged the government to invest in SEND. Picture: Adobe Stock
Councils have urged the government to invest in SEND. Picture: Adobe Stock

The figures are based on a survey of 40 local authorities, which reveal that the collective black hole in their finances for SEND is set to increase from £134m in 2018/19 to a projected deficit of £1.3bn in 2022/23.

The size of this deficit will be “unmanageable and extremely difficult to pay off without taking large sums of money earmarked for other council services”, warns the County Councils Network (CCN) and Society of County Treasurers, the associations that have compiled the figures.

Councils are able to carry over their school budget deficits until April 2023. But while this provides councils “with some breathing space” the concession is “little more than a sticking plaster”, according to CCN.

The government has been urged to conclude its review of SEND provision, which was set up two years ago, it adds. This should tackle issues including placements for pupils and focusing on preventative support for families.

“We have a statutory and moral obligation to support these young people, but local authorities are building up significant deficit," said CCN children and young people spokesman Keith Glazier.

“With limited options and a lack of funding available, we are being backed into a corner and face a financial cliff edge in two years’ time when these deficits will be on our budget books and will need to be addressed.

“This could mean we take funds from other services or money from our pandemic recovery efforts.

“We need urgent action from the government to provide substantive resource in this year’s Spending Review so we can begin to address these deficits now rather than let them grow to unmanageable levels.

"Ministers should also publish the special educational needs review as soon as possible – and reform must address the root cause why the vast bulk of councils in the country are building up unsustainable deficits,” he added.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We have announced the biggest increase in school funding in a decade and increased high needs funding for councils to provide services for families and children with special educational needs and disabilities to more than £8 billion this year – an increase of nearly a quarter over two years.

“We are providing targeted support for individual authorities facing particular challenges with their dedicated schools grant deficits, and our SEND Review is also considering how to make sure funding is being spent fairly, efficiently and effectively.”




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