Special education deficit rises - Budget shortfall grows to almost £50 million

    Members of Devon County Council’s ruling cabinet are urging the government to clarify funding for special education after Devon’s spending deficit on the service rose to almost £50 million. Devon County Council’s financial report for 2020/21 reveals an underspend of just £35,000 on total revenue, but the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) budget shortfall increased by £29 million in the year to a current total of £49 million. The shortfall doesn’t currently count towards the main revenue figures. This is because the government has told local authorities to allocate SEND defici

    Special education deficit rises

    Members of Devon County Council’s ruling cabinet are urging the government to clarify funding for special education after Devon’s spending deficit on the service rose to almost £50 million.
    Devon County Council’s financial report for 2020/21 reveals an underspend of just £35,000 on total revenue, but the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) budget shortfall increased by £29 million in the year to a current total of £49 million.
    The shortfall doesn’t currently count towards the main revenue figures. This is because the government has told local authorities to allocate SEND deficits to separate accounts for three years until April 2023.
    However, what happens to the current £49 million figure when that arrangement ends is unclear. Councillors are seeking clarity on the matter.
    Cabinet member for finance, Councillor Phil Twiss (Conservative, Feniton & Honiton) says the SEND deficit is “climbing at a rather concerning rate.”
    “We’ve got to look at whether we’re spending that money in the best way, and I think we probably are, because let’s not lose sight of the fact that there are real people involved in this that need those services. So it’s not just about money.”
    “What we have learned in the last 12 months is how quickly you can change and adapt, and that’s been one of the few positive things to come out of the pandemic.”
    Cllr Twiss added: “We need assurances from the government that they will help us get that figure down.
    “We need to focus on the people and how we can best service their needs. That’s something that is continually ongoing at the council and, as we hopefully begin to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, then we can take a long hard look and decide if we’re doing the best we possibly can for the service.”
    The recently appointed cabinet member for children’s services and schools, Councillor Andrew Leadbetter (Conservative, Wearside & Topsham), says SEND funding is “one of the biggest pressures” on the council.
    “At the moment we have an overspend which is being put into a separate pot, ring-fenced as an overspend, and one of the things moving forward in my new role is how we deal with that overspend.
    “One of the other things I’ve been doing is lobbying the government to give us more money,” Cllr Leadbetter said, adding: “The government has many pressures on it, but education is particularly important because children are our future.”
    Cllr Leadbetter says they are making some changes, such as bringing some outsourced contracts back under direct council control next year and building new special schools such as one at Okehampton that will cater for 80 to 100 pupils.
    The leader of the opposition on the county council, Councillor Alan Connett (Lib Dem, Exminster & Haldon) says the government is not funding SEND “fairly or properly” for Devon and many other local authorities.
    He said: “I’ve been flagging this up for the past few years.
    “We’ve been short-changed yet again in Devon while other areas of the country are having money lavished on them.
    “This is real money that is being spent and there will be a day of reckoning, so leaving it on the council’s credit card – as it were – is okay for now but we need the solution from government about this, not just for Devon but right across the country.”
    A Department for Education spokesperson said that Devon’s high-needs funding for 2021-22 will be £87 million, a 9.8 per-cent per head increase on  last year.
    “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.”
    Discussing the £35,000 underspend on the council’s £541 million revenue budget, Cllr Twiss described the balanced budget as “remarkable” in light of the pandemic and the extra pressures services have faced
    “I was expecting it to be significantly worse than it actually is. We’ve had so many challenges thrown at us in the past six months that nobody could have possibly imagined.”
    But opposition leader Cllr Connett questioned why the county’s earmarked reserves have increased. During the year they have gone up by just under £17.5 millions to almost £137.5 million, £5.3 million of which has been ring-fenced for public health.
    “Reserves are for rainy days. Economically in Devon it’s pouring with rain, and we need the council not to be hoarding reserves in its bank, but looking at what it can do to help Devon.
    “Roads need fixing, children’s services need repairing, we need a ‘Made in Devon’ scheme that really helps our traders boost their businesses,” he said.
    The SEND shortfall is one of the reasons highlighted by county treasurer Mary Davis as to why the council faces “considerable financial challenges” in the years ahead. She will present the figures to the authority’s ruling cabinet on Wednesday (14 July).
    In her report to councillors, Mrs Davis says: “The longer-term financial impact of the pandemic, the spending review, one-year funding settlements from the government together with ongoing pressures in social care and the funding shortfall in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) mean the authority is facing considerable financial risk in both the short and medium term.”
    The cabinet will also hear that £134 million was spent on capital projects in the last financial year – £67 million less than budgeted.
    Mrs Davis says that the pandemic had an impact on the delivery of the programme across all the county’s services and she is recommending that the balance is carried forward into future budgets.

    More from Devon News

    • New educational facility all about the value of water opens

      A brand-new interactive visitor centre designed to teach children and adults about the value of water is mixing education with enjoyment has been opened. The Value of Water centre and dry-weather garden is a partnership project between South West Water and South West Lakes, located at the Roadford Lake in Lifton.

    • Dawlish Sea Wall reaches important landmark

      The sea wall at Dawlish has reached an “important landmark” following installation of143 concrete wall panel. Network Rail, who are carrying out the work, say that work on the second section on the project is progressing well after the concrete panels ranging from 6.09 to 6.69 metres in size and each weighing between 11.55 to 12.95 tonnes have been fitted

    • Covid weekly update

      ovid cases have fallen in every council area in Devon except Exeter. The city’s infection rate has risen by 27 per cent in the last seven days (to 29 July) making it the highest in the county, with 505 cases per 100,000 people, significantly higher than the national average of 280.

    • Man jailed for sex outside the Cathedral

      A drunken sex offender has been jailed for ignoring an order and having sex with a teenage student outside Exeter Cathedral

    • Councils’ devolution bid

      Councils across Devon are to launch a bid for more devolved powers from Westminster. The move comes after the government announced it was looking at reviewing its current arrangements with the counties and local authorities.

    • Nightingale hospital to help reduce waiting lists in the County

      From this autumn, Exeter's NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter will be helping to tackle the lengthy waiting lists for operations in Devon and the southwest. After being decommissioned as a Covid-19 hospital earlier this year. The Nightingale has since been used to provide diagnostic scans to local people, host a Covid-19 vaccine trial and train overseas nurses.

    • A373 Closed following car crashing into electricity pole

      The A373 between Cullompton and Honiton is partially blocked by a damaged electricity pole following a two-vehicle collision caused by a medical episode this morning.

    • Starcross enhancement scheme

      A number of improvements to the main road though Starcross to help alleviate traffic problems and improve safety have been approved. The stretch of the A379 through the village is known for pinch-points, especially a narrow section between the pillars and a convenience store, where traffic queues.


    Tide Times

    Today's Weather

    • Exmouth

      Light rain

      High: 19°C | Low: 13°C

    • Sidmouth

      Light rain shower

      High: 19°C | Low: 14°C

    • Exeter

      Sunny intervals

      High: 20°C | Low: 14°C

    • Dawlish

      Light rain

      High: 19°C | Low: 15°C

    What's On

    • Sidmouth Folk Festival

      Organisers of The Sidmouth Folk Festival aim to put on a week of music, dance and family entertainment this summer. Billed as A Celebration of Sidmouth Folk Festival, the event from July 30 until August 6, will be an ‘authentic taste’ of the traditional event. John Braithwaite, festival director, said: “We are looking forward to this special celebration, as we thank everyone who helped the festival survive last year’s cancellation and to secure its future.

      at Blackmore Gardens
    • Exmouth Country Market - 8.30 til 11.30am

      Cooperative market selling cakes, meals, savouries, preserves, eggs, plants, crafts, vegetables and fruit. All home made and locally produced

      at The Glenorchy Hall
    • An Adorably Curious Adventure

      Are you curious? Do you like adventures? Then get ready to explore The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon with this fun family activity trail. Feed your curiosity and discover all things adorable with a donkey adventure like no other. Simply find the A-Z of fun donkey facts around the sanctuary and complete the trail activities as you go to claim a prize and sticker. The adventure is split into two parts – one short trail and one a little longer. For the first part, locate eight donkey facts around the main sanctuary and find the hidden letters to complete the missing word. Why let the fun stop there? For the super inquisitive and serious explorers among you, follow the trail around the sanctuary’s wider walkways to complete the second part of the adventure (optional), finding 18 more hidden letters to complete the missing phrase. This entertaining activity combines family fun, exercise and brainpower and is just £5 per trail, including the prize and sticker. Head to The Shed to pick up a trail sheet and away you go on your adventure. Plus with daily talks, scenic walks, engaging exhibits, award-winning gardens and, of course, hundreds of adorable donkeys to meet, there’s so much to explore with your own herd, whatever the weather. Take sanctuary in the Taste of the West award-winning restaurant, The Kitchen, and enjoy fresh, local, seasonal produce while soaking in the unparalleled coast and country views. Breakfasts, lunches and tempting afternoon treats are served daily, with every penny of profit helping donkeys and mules around the world. Before heading home, browse the Gift Shop at leisure in the knowledge that every purchase goes towards helping donkeys in need. Packed with unique donkey-design items and souvenirs, you will find something for everyone. Make the day your own, but above all else, fall in love with the herds of donkeys. From humble beginnings as a UK rescue mission over 50 years ago, The Donkey Sanctuary has grown into one of the world’s largest equine welfare charities. The sanctuary is open 7 days a week, from 9am to 5pm. Entry and parking is FREE (donations welcome), and dogs on leads are welcome. A range of safety measures are in place to protect visitors, staff, volunteers and donkeys, and full details on visiting can be found on The Donkey Sanctuary website. Further information www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sidmouth | 01395 578222 | enquiries@thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk All proceeds help fund the work of The Donkey Sanctuary Worldwide.

      at The Donkey Sanctuary