SEND

Councils with SEND bailouts increasingly ‘monitored’ by ministers

Two councils given £119m were off-track within months of bailouts being signed off

Two councils given £119m were off-track within months of bailouts being signed off

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Cash-strapped councils falling behind on their SEND deficit bailout plans – just months after they were signed off – have now been placed under “enhanced” monitoring by ministers, Schools Week can reveal. 

Cambridgeshire and Norfolk signed government “safety valve” agreements in March, where they got £119 million combined in bailouts to help balance their high needs deficits over five and seven years respectively.

But by September, both were already off track, which means they must submit revised plans and join the “enhanced monitoring and support (EMS)” scheme.

News of a higher tier of intervention in the scheme compounds concerns by campaigners that the bailouts, which come with strict cost-cutting demands and which are not enough to balance budgets.

Maxine Webb, an independent councillor in Norfolk, said: “Those of us who warned about the SEND system hinging on the safety valve scheme will rightly be massively worried about the intervention happening so early on in the programme, and its implications.”

Cambridgeshire warned last month it was more than £6 million off-track “as a result of the continuing increase in demand” for services. Norfolk risks wiping its deficit a year later than planned.

DfE won’t say how many councils monitored

The Department for Education said this week the enhanced monitoring scheme includes “additional financial and technical support”.

But it would not confirm how many councils were on EMS, or when it began. But most of the 34 local authorities on the safety valve scheme are on track to reduce their deficits, the spokesperson added.

In a letter to conservative-run Norfolk Council, the DfE said the enhanced monitoring programme was designed “to allow a local authority time to produce an updated or revised dedicated schools grant management plan to get the agreement back on track.”

It comes with “support and challenge” from SEND and financial advisors, but there is “no scope” to negotiate funding attached to the agreement. 

SEND specialist Matt Keer said: “When it comes to financial accountability, these LAs are getting intensely and repeatedly scrutinised.

“But there’s little evidence of the same intense attention being paid to the most important thing: whether these LAs are meeting their statutory duties, and enabling their schools to ensure good outcomes for children and young people with SEND.”

Referrals rise stretches deficit plan

School forum documents for Norfolk state an “unexpected increase” in special school referrals has strained its deficit-reduction plan. Two new free special schools won’t open until 2026.

It is undertaking a “stock-take” and “comprehensive programme refresh which will identify new initiatives and mitigations” to bring the plan back on track,” documents added.

A council spokesperson said: “The fact that the trajectory is having to be refreshed is precisely because we are committed to continuing to meet needs and have, therefore, spent more money in 2023 than originally projected.”

They have “confidence that our revised plan will lead to EMS ending” on March 31.

But Webb added it is likely children and families would “bear the brunt” of any further “mitigations.”

Cambridgeshire, run by a liberal democrat, labour and independent joint administration, warned a delay in DfE-delivered free special school projects is also “significant.” A spokesperson said: “The pressure of demand and inflation means there is a current gap in our position.”

It plans to “reset” its model to balance the budget by 2026-27.

‘DfE will want to impose a plan’

A council spokesperson said they are likely to be “rephasing transformation activities and getting support from DfE experts in early years and special schools. These discussions will also include the timing of opening of DfE delivered free schools.”

Council documents from June revealed Dorset was in discussion with DfE about its safety valve agreement and “collaborating” as part of the EMS programme. 

Meanwhile, South Gloucestershire said they were behind target and DfE “will want to impose a plan on us going forward,” schools forum minutes state.

Schools Week previously reported how safety valve councils have warned that inflation, staffing shortages and construction delays risk undermining the programme.

Meanwhile, the row over Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole’s safety valve negotiations continued this week. More than 2,000 residents have signed a petition calling for a full council vote on any deal.

A packed children’s committee meeting heard from officer Nicola Webb that the 15-year proposal the council has submitted to government, in exchange for a bailout, “doesn’t tackle the deficit currently projected.”

Graham Farrant, BCP chief executive, added they “will not support a proposal that takes the service below the statutory requirements”.

The council will receive feedback on its plan by March.

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  1. Miriam Bayliss

    I concur with Matt Keer. The team at Staffordshire are reckless with unlawfull practice. There appears to be strategic misfeasance. It is systemic..
    Using locums to create cases of FII and persisting along that route even though the complaint process has clearly shown and third panels agreed that there is no FII and la is to repair the relationship.
    Parents have provided a strong body of evidence.
    Abuse of the power balance is the norm with threats from caseworkers if parents don’t do what they want by a certain time, when what they are stating it unlawful and they are acting unlawfully.
    Tender documents that are vague and do not reflect ehcps.
    For education and social care.
    Social care that pretend it is not part of the ehpc process and refuses to work together under the cfa or working together.
    Claims that assessments are for education , (as apparently all those conditions and needs don’t apply outside school)
    Claims that social care cannot get the data that education holds, in the same directorate.
    As apparently phoning or emailing to ask for it..or getting up and going to get it seems to be byond capability.
    Send teams not answering emails or any communication for sometimes years as a means to delay and ignore, updating a plan, issuing a plan, therefore not able to appeal.
    Not carrying out reviews
    Ignoring request to call a review
    On complaint agreeing reviews to be held.
    Then ignoring that review and refusing to issue the plan.
    Tribunal accepted the review.
    Making false claims to Lgo, to solicitors, to tribunal.
    Ignoring ordered plans.
    Creating vague tender documents that do not reflect the ehpc and needs of the children leading to inapprqriqte provsion.
    It quite literally is a reign of terror.
    Parents are forced to protect the la budget, being left with scant or no educational support , or social care provsion. Unable to work so therfore moving info poverty.
    This is so for children that the public might consider part of that ” deserving disabeld ” that Gove, who in that moment was not being such an honourable member of parliament…
    Parents at being subjected to the equivalent of modern day slaves, by the very teams that are employed and funded by the public purse to ensure that these children have the very basics of a suitable education and an attempt at an ordinary life. both legal standards. Not enhanced , golden tickets…. Just a sutiable education and an ordinary life..ordinary…