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Sept 29, 2023, Bristol Post: Schools budget deficit could hit £58m [$71M] by March due to rising special needs demand

SW England

In the next few days Bristol City Council will start consulting parents on changes to the education budget

The schools budget in Bristol could face a whopping £58-million black hole by next March due to rising demand for special needs education. Without taking action to cut costs, the deficit in Bristol City Council’s schools budget is forecast to reach £127 million [$155M] by 2028. AND the national government has allowed local councils to go into debt over special ed costs City Hall chiefs have just three years to balance the books in the dedicated schools grant budget, as councils are normally banned from spending more than budgeted for and carrying deficits. But the government has given councils special permission until March 2026.
There was a meeting about this, but the public wasn’t allowed to watch.

Headteachers discussed the cost pressures with council bosses during a schools forum meeting on Tuesday, September 26. These meetings are normally broadcast on the council’s website for members of the public and press to watch, however this one was not.

A report to the schools forum said: “The main drivers of forecast overspend remain high-needs top up and placements costs, resulting from increasing EHCPs [education health and care plans] and complexity of children with special educational needs. The unmitigated deficit forecast position at the end of 2023/24 could reach £58,170,000.

Schools need to come up with a plan to improve their “long terms financial sustainability.”

“Education and financial services are working closely with the sector to explore options to bring school finance back to sustainable footing. All schools forecasting a deficit have been notified of the need to produce a robust plan to demonstrate and secure their long-term financial sustainability.”

Council staff have met with headteachers and governors to “explore affordable solutions”. … At the end of the last financial year, the dedicated schools grant budget had spent £15 million [$18M] more than was budgeted for, leaving a cumulative deficit of £40 million [$49M]. Spending on the high needs block takes up about a fifth of the total DSG budget, which is £420 million this year.

It’s unclear whether the government will extend its special permission allowing councils to run deficits in their schools budget, known as a statutory instrument. Earlier this year, one council accountant warned that if Bristol doesn’t balance the books by then, and the statutory instrument wasn’t extended, the “council will run out of money”. Green Councillor Tony Dyer said many councils were facing the same problems. Speaking during an audit committee on Monday, September 25, he said: “It’s a similar situation for pretty much every other local authority. If the government does not continue the [statutory instrument] provision, there may be some major problems right across the country.”
The number of parents in Bristol requesting an education health and care needs assessment has risen dramatically over the past few years. In 2019, the council received 626 requests, rising to 728 in 2020, 850 in 2021 and 1,001 in 2022.


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