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

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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