Councils on 'financial cliff edge' due to rising numbers of children needing SEN support
Thursday, July 1, 2021
England's largest councils are calling for more funding in the Government's Spending Review to address a projected £1.3bn special educational needs (SEN) deficit in 2022/23.
The local authorities have warned they are on a 'financial cliff edge' due to an eight-fold increase in the special educational needs deficit.
According to the councils, this is due to a ‘dramatic rise’ in children and young people being eligible for Education, Care and Health Plans (EHCPs).
A survey by the County Councils Network (CNN) and the Society of County Treasurers shows that the combined deficit for 40 local authorities has gone up from £134m in 2018/19 to a projected £1.3bn in 2022/23.
While the Government has said these deficits do not need to be addressed until 2023, allowing councils to carry over their school budget deficits until April that year, CNN says this is ‘little more than a sticking plaster’.
Councils have warned that the size of the deficit in two years’ time will be ‘unmanageable’ and extremely difficult to pay off without taking large sums of money earmarked for other council services.
CNN is now calling for a substantial injection of funding in the Spending Review so councils can begin to address their deficits and bring them to ‘manageable’ levels.
It is also urging the Government to conclude its review of special educational needs services, set-up in 2019. CNN says the review must address the root cause of growing high needs deficits, provide local authorities with the means to start addressing the ‘huge’ shortfalls and focus on preventative services.
The Government made an extra £730m available this year for high needs, in addition to a £780m injection last year, but councils used the money to cover pre-existing shortfalls.
Councillor Keith Glazier, children and young people spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said, ‘The Government’s legislation changes which extended the eligibility of Education, Health, and Care Plans were well intentioned but this dramatic rise in demand has not been met with the necessary increase in funding, whilst reforms remain unpublished two years on from being announced.
‘We have a statutory and moral obligation to support these young people, but local authorities are building up significant deficits. 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.
‘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.’