Progress against SEND aspects of Surrey CC 2018/19 budget and 3 year plan
On 6 February full County Council approved by a large majority a 2018/19 and Medium-Term Plan (MTP) for 2018-2021, highlighting significant financial and programme challenges. David Hodges, the Leader said, ‘We are facing the most difficult financial challenge in our history’.
The Finance Director stated in her report ‘the combination of the need to deliver, again, a significant in-year savings and service reduction, manage down service demands whilst developing a robust, wide ranging and early transformation plan to change how services are delivered from 2019/20, represents a very serious capacity and financial challenge to the council in 2018/19. All are required for the Council to be in a position to set a balanced budget in 2019/20 [a legal requirement] and move towards becoming sustainable in the longer term.’
The budget included £66m of efficiency savings across all areas of the Council activity in 2018-19, with some £25m to come from the Schools and Learning services and further savings of £67m in the next two years of the MTP. Areas of possible efficiency savings were set out in the budget but no specific detail, reflecting the ‘broad brush’ nature of the budget setting.
FVS was concerned at the scale of 2018/19 efficiencies sought from schools and SEND, reflecting our experience on how detailed joint working failed to fully deliver the £10m of in- year efficiencies against the 2017/18 budget from areas identified in partnership working as possible sources to explore.
We took the view that detailed identification, consultation and delivery of this level of in-year savings in 2018/19 seemed unlikely given the ‘protected’ nature of services to SEND children and young people already with support in place and the rising demand levels for new support experienced over the last few years. And so it has proved. While we have not been involved in detailed work with SCC this year, it seems the sought-after efficiencies to balance the budget are not being realised.
As at 30 June, financial reporting to SCC Cabinet showed:
On SCC overall budget – a forecast £11.8m overspend
On schools and SEND – SEN budget pressure reported at £30m, of which £8m savings is already achieved or on track: £7m savings have potential barriers or high risk of not being achieved, and £15m still remain as the forecast overspend
The £15m SEND increase in spend is attributed to additional pressures within the High Needs Block and it is ‘now more than likely that this additional cost will have to be met from the Council’s general fund” and ‘This residual forecast of £15m is a huge concern and risk for the Council.’
Plans for school transport savings of £1.8m in 2018/19 are ‘not yet on track to be achieved’ and there is a forecast overspend of £1.7m: FVS notes the new transport scheme does not come into operation until September 2018 and independent traveller training will only start at this time
Demand pressures are significant, with ECH Plans now at 8,300, rising in line with the trend seen across the South East; with almost 600 new since January.
On this trend it seems to us likely that the schools and SEND forecast overspend will increase over 2018/19.
For us, this emphasises the need for more focus on engagement in the current SCC major transformation and long- term planning and budgeting – covering 5-10 years, described elsewhere in other posts. We have encouraged SCC to involve us in this work from the earliest point in their preparations, and we hope they will involve us, working on your behalf, when we return from the summer holidays.