To provide an update on the development of the 2021-22 High Needs Block element of the Schools Budget.
The Forum considered a report which updated on the development of the 2021-22 High Needs Block (HNB) element of the Schools Budget.
Kashif Nawaz advised that steps were being taken as part of the Council’s transformation project to address the pressures on the HNB Budget. Updates were included in section 6 of the report and Kashif Nawaz noted that progress had only been made possible due to the collaboration with schools and partners. Further updates would be shared at the next meeting of the HNB sub-group.
In relation to controlling the number of Education, Health & Care Plans (EHCPs), Kashif Nawaz was producing information that would be shared with the Forum in the next couple of weeks.
Action: Kashif Nawaz
Progress was continuing in developing provision and two Service Level Agreements had already been signed off for the Special Resource Provisions (SRPs). The project transformation group was going to keep oversight of that, and data and evidence was being produced parallel to the work being done.
The Chair asked Paul Clark to comment on the financial forecasts, as the Forum had been asked to note that the position had worsened. Paul Clark explained that he had been continually updating the forecast figures. The annual overspend had gone up and was close to a £5m. The assumptions going forward had been amended and all the savings expected from the last work plan had been moved forward. Progress had been adversely impacted by Covid-19. Paul Clark was expecting to present more detailed proposals in March.
The Forum asked for an update on the 15 pupils that had not been placed in schools and queried whether that situation was likely to arise again next September or whether steps had been taken to avoid that happening again. Rachel Morgan advised that the Council had been working closely with four families to place those children. There had been an increase in the cost to place those children as specialist provision was required. Rachel Morgan explained that it was a rare situation which she was hoping would not recur, but other local authorities (LAs) noted the same this year. The issues arose due to Covid-19 and specialist providers not accepting new admissions. The Council was conducting a feasibility study of the Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) Hub. The aim was to gather data and analysis to make a case to create a new provision in the Borough which, if approved, was hoped to reduce pressures.
The Forum expressed that it had noted on several occasions that the only way to alleviate the HNB budget pressures would be to make radical changes and have more provision within the Borough. The Forum felt it had not seen evidence of anything radical and asked whether there was a plan to bring forward any plans to start to address that issue. Kashif Nawaz replied that the plan was set out within the Commissioning Plan and additional resources had been allocated to deliver change within the transformation project. More details were due to be shared at the next meeting of the sub-group. Kashif Nawaz felt that, although pressures were expected to continue to grow, the priorities set out in the plan were the right ones.
The Forum noted that the increase in the deficit had been attributed to the impact of Covid-19, but it was unclear how that would impact the whole of HNB funding. Rachel Morgan clarified that the biggest issue was specialist provision refusing to take on new admissions due to Covid-19. There was also an impact in the way the Council worked with its partners from Health, and there was an increase in what providers could charge. The Commissioning team was working on that issue.
Paul Clark added that the huge financial challenges were recognised but that making the required significant financial improvement would not be achieved in the short term and that change would occur over the medium- to long-term. Even opening more resources in the Borough was not expected to lead to any significant savings on the budget straight away.
The Chair highlighted that this was not an issue which was exclusive to this Council as all LAs had issues with their HNB budget. The Chair felt we could be reasonably confident that we would be allowed to work towards our own plan rather than having measures enforced on us by the DfE. Rachel Morgan added that there was talk of a national review of SEND.
RESOLVED to NOTE:
1. the on-going progress against the actions contained within the SEND Commissioning Plan;
2. the current update on the HNB Budget and its medium-term financial plan which projected a £14.952m deficit at 31 March 2023; and
3. the expectation that budget proposals would be presented to the next meeting of the Forum.