To receive and consider the High Needs Block Update and Recovery Plan report.
Jim Leivers, Interim Assistant Director for Education tabled the High Needs Block (HNB) Update and Recovery Plan, he apologised for the lateness of the report and stated that members could email him questions.
The meeting was adjourned for 10 minutes.
Upon reconvening Jim Leviers presented the report. He stated that the overspend in the HNB had serious long term implications for the Local Authority. Due to the fact that the deficit on the DSG exceeded 1%, the Local Authority was required to produce a recovery plan which had to be submitted to the DfE. Wokingham’s position for 2018/19 year end was of a deficit of 1.14%. Jim Leivers stated that this was a huge challenge for Wokingham, and that the deficit was cumulative.
Jim Leivers stated that the demand for specialist places had increased significantly and the introduction of the 2014 Children’s Act and the requirement to provide high needs education up to 25 years of age had added more pressure for places. Additionally, the Local Authority had not made provision for additional places for children with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP).
Jim Leivers stated that by 2019/20 the deficit would be 3.8m, and the measures that were being put in place to create additional capacity would not be sufficient to tackle and recover this level of deficit.
Jim Leivers explained that the Council was allowed to carry forward deficits from grants such as the DSG. If the Council was to absorb this deficit, this would wipe out the Council’s reserves and put the Council in a very dangerous position. Senior officers were concerned with the possibility that the government (given the size of the problem nationally) might change the rules around carrying forward this deficit.
Jim Leivers made the following points:
· The expansion of Addington School had been approved and would create 50 additional places, however this would take some time to be completed;
· Approval had been gained to open a new free school in partnership with other local authorities. This provision would be for 150 place, of which Wokingham would have 50. However, the site that Reading had identified for the new school was not approved by the DfE, so now Wokingham was trying to identify a suitable site. This project would also take some time to complete;
· The Northern House School was in difficulties and a new Trust was being sought for the school. There were currently 39 Wokingham children placed at the school. Once a new Trust took over the school, it was likely that the cost of placements would go up, putting further pressure in the HNB;
· Negotiations were ongoing with schools about the funding of resource centres in schools;
· He received daily emails from parents complaining that the service was failing to meet the assessment demands;
· The Council had put in an additional £250k for SEN staff;
· Two new SEN managers had been recruited;
· A recovery plan had been drafted for submission to the DfE.
Jim Leivers stated that many local authorities in the country were facing similar challenges in relation to the HNB and the rise in demand for specialist places. He believed that the central government would have to help to fund the deficit as it was not possible to fund the deficit with the local measures that were identified. He welcomed any ideas or suggestions.
During the discussion of the item the following comments were made:
· Jim Leivers stated that he would wait to submit the recovery plan to the DfE until 17 July to allow Schools Forum Members to comment on the plan;
· Ginny Rhodes stated that it would be useful to know the names of the new SEN staff. Jim Leivers agreed to send this information to all schools;
· Derren Gray asked if the models included income increases. Coral Miller stated that the model did not include increases because there was no expectation of any increases in funding, in fact one year the HNB had decreased;
· Bob Watson, Lead Finance Specialist confirmed that the models did not include inflation uplift, they were based on previous allocations. Additionally, a low settlement was expected;
· Bob Watson stated that the Council was mobilising resources to put pressure on the government, through local politicians, to increase the HNB funding;
· Carol Cammiss stated that she had recently attended a meeting of the Association of Children’s Services Directors, and that Children’s Services Directors were also lobbying the government for more funding;
· Carol Cammiss stated the Local Authority had to continue to provide for the children, however the situation was very difficult;
· In response to a question Bob Watson confirmed that a rise in demand had been included in the model. He stated that the Council was not able to absorb the HNB deficit;
· In response to a question Jim Leivers stated that the Local Authority had initially suspended new allocations to Northern House, but the suspension was now lifted.
RESOLVED That the report be noted.