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Posted by: John Brace | 30th April 2014

Wirral Council officers want to spend £600,000 of £1.4 million special educational needs underspend on PFI deal

Labour councillors at a public meeting of Wirral Council's Coordinating Committee vote to consult on closing Lyndale School (27th February 2014)

Labour councillors at a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Coordinating Committee voting earlier this year to consult on closing Lyndale School

Wirral Council officers want to spend £600,000 of £1.4 million special educational needs underspend on PFI deal

                                 

Tonight (at the time of writing) the Wirral Schools Forum meets. Regulation 8(2) and 8(13) of The Schools Forums (England) Regulations 2012 mean that meetings of the Wirral Schools Forum are public meetings and the papers for the meetings have to be published on Wirral Council’s website.

The report for agenda item 8 (Schools Budget Monitoring Report 2013-14) contains some rather interesting information about spending in the special educational needs area of the budget.

For example this quote from that report refers to the budget that goes towards special schools such as Lyndale School (which Wirral Council is currently consulting on the closure of):

2.12 Special Education Needs Transition Reserve £0.3m under spend The 2013-14 budget is £8.3m, of which £8.0m has been committed, including the costs to fund the High Needs MFG in 2014-15 of £330,000.” and there are other underspends in the special educational needs budget too, a half a million pounds underspend on special educational needs statementing costs for schools and early years (detailed at 2.13), a £400,000 underspend in support for special educational needs (detailed at 2.15) and a £200,000 underspend on the independent special schools budget. In total this comes to an underspend of £1.4 million across the special educational needs budget, when Wirral Council are consulting on closing Lyndale School (according to their consultation document) over a predicted shortfall of £12,313 last year and £19,000 this year.

Part of the reason for the predicted shortfall of £12,313 is because when the 2013-14 schools budget was agreed (first by the Wirral Schools Forum, then by Cabinet, then by Council) a high needs contingency in the special schools budget was set of £880,000, which as the report states there is a £300,000 underspend of this reserve it was set too high. If this reserve had instead been set a little more realistically and let’s just say for sake of argument the £300,000 divided equally between the eleven special schools on the Wirral, each school would’ve received an extra £27,272 which would’ve meant that there was no deficit at Lyndale School last year and that the deficit this year would be extremely small (~£4,000).

Despite these large underspends in the special educational needs budget of £1.4 million, overspends and underspends elsewhere in the education budget and a contribution of £600,000 to reserves reduces the total underspend to £384,000.

You may well ask what reserve is £600,000 needed for that had been previously allocated for special educational needs? This report on School Private Finance Initiative (PFI) Costs explains the need for a £600,000 reserve. Thirteen years ago a private finance agreement was agreed to by Wirral Council for the rebuild/refurbishment of one primary and eight secondary schools on the Wirral. Variations to the agreement were then agreed for the construction of two City Learning Centres. This PFI contract was originally for 25 years, but then extended for a further two years in 2004.

Wirral Council pay amounts to Wirral School Services Limited for the PFI costs according to the contract signed. The annual cost this year will be £11 million, which is offset by a government grant of £5.5 million a year. The PFI schools pay their share of the PFI facilities management support services costs which comes to £3 million a year. However this still leaves £2.5 million.

Officers are proposing that £600,000 of the underspend (money that was originally allocated for special educational needs) should be put towards PFI costs. The rest will be have to be found from permanent savings in the Schools Budget.

So who was Cabinet Member for Children’s Services when the PFI agreement was agreed in 2004, that may result in money that was agreed for the education of children with special educational needs being diverted into the profits of a private company? The Cabinet Member for Childrens Services from 2000 to 2009 was Councillor Phil Davies, the current Leader of Wirral Council.

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Responses

  1. PFI projects nationwide are at best Boondogle and at worst a tool to assist the passage of fraud. I suggest the latter. No doubt the Wirral Council voted for this underspend money for their own advantage NOT for the use of the general public. Now that rogue council nationwide have the vexatious LOOPHOLES well and truly stitched up , they can do as the please.At least until June6th when Dransfield,s cases come before the Court of Apeal?!?

    • Since one of my Freedom of Information requests (in fact the only one that Wirral Council have ever claimed a vexatious exemption for) got appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office last year they haven’t tried using a vexatious exemption on any of my requests since.

      The problem with making FOI requests about PFI contracts is that the public body can use exemption 43 (commercial interests) to refuse the request. Personally I think all large contracts (say for £100,000 a year or more) with local councils should be routinely published so the public knows what they are getting for their money. However most councils don’t have such an enlightened approach to openness and transparency.

      I’m sure many FOI requesters will be watching to see the outcome of the Dransfield cases.

      • John
        I am sure the FOI watchers are keen to see what happens on my Court of Apeal in June. I was also v interested In your comments John ref foia requests for PFI projects. I have a current case now before the court of appeal related to 6 PFI school in Exeter which had undergone 6 FTT retrials and the latest. Being 24 of last month in which the ICO didn’t even turn up for the FTT hearing but still won the day on a section 14/1 vexatious exption based on the Dransfield caseGIA/3037/2011.
        I tend to agree with you John that ALL public funded projects over 100k should be subject to FOI. I would argue under 100grand also
        I note with a wry smile the latest PA to jump on the Dransfield bandwagon is Aunti Beeb with her kiddy fiddling cover ups.
        I believe the FOIA is in meltdown

        • Well there is a way round having your FOI request for the PFI contract turned down.

          Each year during the audit, for a few weeks each year you have a right under s.15 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 to inspect contracts of public bodies and to make copies of them. If you’re just after the contract it might be a simpler (and quicker) route to go down than making an FOI request.

          I’m sure your local council will tell you (or at least they will have a rough idea) of when that period starts this year and they also have to publish a notice about it too. You can also get access to unredacted invoices through s.15 too. Hope that helps!

          • Thanks John and I will try that route but I must visit their HQ as I am under a lifetime email ban from the Devon County Council but I could present this request via my MP Ben Bradshaw but thanks anyway

        • Hi, something that might interest you is that a new transparency code has been issued by government. It means all local councils (who have six months to comply with the code therefore they have till November) will have to publish contracts they hold that have a value of £5,000. This would include PFI contracts and I’m sure is something you welcome.

  2. What is Ms Hassalls take on this?As Lyndale is still being ignored

    • The reports I refer on the projected underspend and the PFI issue going to the Wirral Schools Forum to be discussed tonight are both in her name. Her recommendation for the underspend report is that the Wirral Schools Forum note the report. Her recommendation for the PFI report is that the “Schools Forum Formula Working Group identify and review the funding options for the changes described. The group would meet in the summer term and report back to the next meeting in July.”

  3. […] One of the reasons that an officer gave at the call in meeting for closing Lyndale School is Wirral Council reducing its contribution towards PFI (private finance initiative) costs and expecting the schools budget to cover it. The reduction is £600,000 this year and a planned reduction of £2.3 million for 2015-16 (the budget for 2015-16 will be agreed in 2015). This year the £600,000 PFI shortfall in the schools budget is being met from an underspend in the SEN budget, which I wrote about previously “Wirral Council officers want to spend £600,000 of £1.4 million special educational needs underspen…“. […]

  4. […] a PFI agreement. This is a monthly invoice, so the yearly total comes to about £12 million. As previously reported this is a story about money and education that is rather complex, but does connect to Lyndale […]


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