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(UK) Bristol: Council may pull out of $71M bailout for SPED deficit

June 18, 2024, Bristol Post: Bristol City Council could pull out of government bailout on special needs education 


SW England


The government has already written off almost half of the deficit the council has built up

The new leader of the council has suggested that Bristol could pull out of a government bailout deal on special needs education. Rising demand and costs for supporting disabled children has left a growing black hole in Bristol City Council’s schools budget.


Earlier this year the Department for Education agreed to write off most of the council’s ballooning deficit, estimated at about £56 million [$71M]. But in return the council has to carry out stringent reforms to support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).


This has led to questions over whether the council could take some of the money and then pull out of the deal. The new council leader was quizzed on his plans about the Safety Valve deal in a meeting of the strategy and resources policy committee.


Green Councillor Tony Dyer, leader of the council, said: “There’ll be a report coming to a future edition of this committee which will talk about the financial situation in more detail. The children and young people policy committee will also have a view going forward as well.


“But at the moment no decision has been made either way, until we have more information both from our own financial reports, but also in terms of feedback from whatever may be a new government coming in that may have a different approach to the problems with the Safety Valve and what it’s designed to solve.


“We’ve already received the first payment of £21 million [$27M]. In terms of how money is paid over, that depends on us hitting a number of targets and then it’s done on a regular basis. As far as we know, once those payments are made, we’re not aware of any process whereby those payments can be asked to be returned. We’ll establish confirmation on that."


Bristol is not alone in problems with its schools budget. About a decade ago the government changed the rules on SEND education, making councils legally responsible for providing much more support — but without giving them the extra cash needed to do so.


Cllr Dyer added: “The dedicated schools grant has been in deficit for quite some time. The main reason for that, in my opinion, is there were reforms made in 2013 and 2014, which set higher standards for the level of care and education that was required, particularly in high needs education. But the additional funding needed to deliver that wasn’t provided.


“As a result, councils like ourselves and I think two thirds of councils across the country ended up in a situation where they had a deficit. It would have been in the region of £50 [$63] or 60 [76] million if we weren’t in the Safety Valve. It’s come down to about £35 million [$44M].


 “It’s an ongoing problem and it is one we need to find a way of resolving. At the moment we’re in the Safety Valve to try and find a way of resolving that. Whether that ends up being the ultimate solution depends on what options are made available from a future incoming government.”



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