Mary Temperton’s Speech to Bracknell Forest Council in support of Safety Valve
*The Department for Education (DfE) has asked the council to take part in a national programme called the Safety Valve intervention programme. This programme is designed to help local authorities tackle overspending on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) services.
The need to build and provide more local schools for our children needing special needs support that cannot be supported in our mainstream schools is urgent. We have accrued huge deficits on sending these children to out-of-Borough placements, and these now have to be repaid. This is a huge financial challenge for Bracknell Forest Council.
On Wednesday 10 January I made the following speech to support the proposals so they could be sent to the Department for Education to consider and hopefully agree.
The proposals were unanimously supported.
I know securing the best possible education for Bracknell Forest’s children and young people is an issue that all members of this Council feel strongly about, and I thank Councillor Gareth Barnard for seconding this motion. Improving our services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities is especially urgent.
The level of spend on Education for our pupils with special educational needs and disabilities has almost doubled in the last 5 years. We are spending more than £7m more on placements outside the Borough and providing almost £4m more in top up funding for our local mainstream schools and special resource provisions than in 2018/19.
We had spent £15m more than the funding available to us by the end of 2022/23 and the current year’s position looks like an overspend of at least £8m. there can be no doubt that this is one of the most challenging financial issues that this Council has ever faced, and the reason is that we do not have sufficient places in Bracknell Forest to support children whose needs cannot be met in mainstream schools. We have the excellent Kennel Lane and special resource provisions in a number of primary schools. But the level of need is beyond our capacity, particularly at secondary schools.
To reduce our costs, we therefore have to build more local provision. The new Special education places proposed are at Sandhurst Secondary school, Edgbarrow Secondary school, and on the former Warfield All Saints Primary school site. The sooner these facilities can be opened the better. The sooner our children will not have to travel long distances and the sooner the deficit costs will stop rising. The new school at Bucklers Park has already been agreed by the department for education, but we need to insure this too is built as soon as possible.
Because of the high deficit accrued, the Department for education invited Bracknell Forest to join the Safety Valve programme. This programme is to enable a council to balance its annual budget as quickly as possible and to repay all the accrued deficit – predicted to rise to £41m within 5 years.
This is a huge sum for a Council of our size to meet but if these proposals are accepted and a deal is agreed, the department for education will fund some of the accrued deficit. However, even with a significant contribution from the Department for Education, there will still be a need to contribute a large sum from the Council’s reserves to ensure that the deficit is fully funded.
Eight years ago, when this Council was setting its budget for 2016/17, Councillors would not have been in the position to commit to the level of reserves needed. There were not enough available.
Now, however, because of the balances saved from the 2018 and 2019 Business Rate Pilots we can make the contributions needed.
The proposals also include funding from parts of the dedicated schools grant to support the high needs area, including top slicing a maximum of 0.5% from individual schools’ budgets. A huge ask considering the financial pressures being experienced by all schools.
But following a consultation with all schools the Schools Forum has agreed to this.
This is an unprecedented challenge for this Council, but I urge you all to support the recommendations.
The Department of Education is anxious that the details of the proposals remain confidential until all have been agreed. But it is right that these proposals are discussed in public, and I do not want the meeting to have to go into private session. For that reason, I ask that members restrict their comments to the public papers and not stray into the confidential papers which include a lot of the detail.