Wirral Council’s Cabinet expected to recommend 5.99% council tax rise for 2018-19

Wirral Council’s Cabinet expected to recommend 5.99% council tax rise for 2018-19

Wirral Council’s Cabinet expected to recommend 5.99% council tax rise for 2018-19

                                          

Cabinet (Wirral Council) 18th December 2017 L to R Cllr Bernie Mooney Cllr Angela Davies Cllr Chris Jones Cllr Phillip Brightmore
Cabinet (Wirral Council) 18th December 2017 Left to Right Cllr Bernie Mooney, Cllr Angela Davies, Cllr Chris Jones and Cllr Phillip Brightmore

The author’s wife has a liability for council tax for 2018-19 for a property on the Wirral, so I declare that as a financial interest in the below piece.

I would like to also thank the Bureau of Investigative Journalists (BIJ) for their help in the area of council budgets and this piece.
Continue reading “Wirral Council’s Cabinet expected to recommend 5.99% council tax rise for 2018-19”

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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Thirteen questions answered about the Lyndale School closure call ins

Thirteen questions answered about the Lyndale School closure call ins

Thirteen questions answered about the Lyndale School closure call ins

                            

Labour's Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explains at a Wirral Council Cabinet meeting why he thinks the Cabinet should agree to consultation on closure of Lyndale School
Labour’s Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explaining at a Wirral Council Cabinet meeting in January why he thinks the Cabinet should agree to consultation on closure of Lyndale School

Q. So what are the decisions that are being called-in?

There are two decisions that have been called in. The first is Cabinet’s decision of the 16th January to consult on closure of Lyndale School. The second is is a decision made at the same Cabinet meeting to change how much schools are paid for people with high needs.

Q. So if the decision called in was taken in mid-January why hasn’t the call in been decided yet?

Well the reasons are a little complicated. When the new constitution was approved last year, instead of all call ins going to the whichever scrutiny committee was relevant to the call in, the system was changed so that all call ins go to the Coordinating Committee. However there was a legal requirement on Wirral Council when considering educational matters to have extra voting representatives on the committee making the decision (between two and five parent governor representatives and one representing each of the diocesan bodies). The Coordinating Committee didn’t have such representation and due to the way the constitution is written, only Council can co opt people onto committees, so the meeting got adjourned to the 27th February so that the Council meeting on the 25th February could co-opt the relevant people.

Q. What exactly is a call in?

If six (or more) councillors disagree with a decision, they can request another committee look at it to see if it needs to be changed. Once a decision is called in, nothing further is done about it until the call in committee have reached a decision. That committee can then either uphold the original decision or make a recommendation back to the original decision making body that a different decision is reached.

Q. So what are the reasons why consulting on closing Lyndale School was called in?

Well the lead signatory to the call in (Cllr Tom Harney) has listed the following reasons:

“The Cabinet were not given the full information to make a decision

  • The category of Complex Learning Difficulties (CLD) includes children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) and children on the Autistic Spectrum. Their needs are different. This is not made clear.
  • The School has been in discussion with the LA about its future for 8 years. The uncertainty has caused some parents to send their children elsewhere.
  • The educational needs of the children are not analysed.
  • In paragraph 2.8, the LA admits they have failed to consider the funding of the school over past years. The funding arrangements are, in reality, in the hands of the LA and, in fact, were agreed at the same time as this proposal.
  • The argument about overheads ignores the present discussions between the LA and Governors about reducing overheads.
  • Table 2 does not discuss the different nature of the intakes of the 3 schools. This is misleading.
  • The work done by Eric Craven on behalf of the LA looking at the needs of the PMLD pupils at the Lyndale and other schools has never been referred to.
  • The resolution of the Council of February 14 2010 and the work done by the LA following this have not been referred to, not even mentioned. This should have formed the context for the present decision.

So what does that all mean in plain English?

  • There are kids who are autistic at the schools that the children from Lyndale School would be moved to if it was closed. The kind of support each group of kids need is different.
  • As parents know Wirral Council have been threatening to close Lyndale School for a number of years, they have chosen to send their children elsewhere as they wouldn’t want their education disrupted if the school closed.
  • I think Cllr Harney is referring to the report being mainly about money. When closure proposals are considered, whoever is making the decision (in this case the Cabinet) has to (its a legal requirement) take notice of guidance issued by the government on making such decisions. Part of this guidance is something referred to as the “SEN Improvement Test”. Put in a nutshell the SEN Improvement Test means if a special school is closed then those children who are affected by its closure and transferred to other schools have to receive an education at those new schools that is equivalent to or better than the education they got at their previous school. The parents of children at Lyndale School disagree that this would be the case.
  • Each year Wirral Council receives a ring fenced grant for education from the government. For 2014/15 Wirral Council will receive just over £240 million. It’s down to the politicians to agree a policy as how this money is divided up each year. Cllr Harney is also referring to the other policy decision that was called in which determines how much money special schools receive for people who have high needs.
  • Overheads refers to the fixed costs of running the school.
  • Table 2 refers to the average cost per a pupil at five schools (Elleray Park, Foxfield, Lyndale, Meadowside and Stanley). Each special school has a different sets of pupils with different needs, therefore different staffing requirements (and overheads). Comparisons on a raw cost of cost per pupil therefore don’t take into account that each child is different, the cost of supporting each child will be different and also that at Lyndale School there are a number of children with medical needs that leads to increased costs.
  • I’m sure Cllr Harney will explain what this refers to on the 27th February.
  • On the 14th February 2011, Council received a petition of 1,874 signatures asking the Council to “develop, as a matter of urgency, a consistent and coherent policy for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.” Council agreed the following resolution “That the Council initiates, as a matter of urgency, a thorough review of the current provision for children and young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) on Wirral. The review will produce a comprehensive policy regarding the best ways to educate, support and care for these children and young people including transition from and provision during life beyond school. Parents will be fully involved in the planning and writing of this policy. This review will be presented to Cabinet by the end of 2011.”

    This review came back to Cabinet in January 2012. It had eleven recommendations, all eleven were agreed by the Cabinet.

Q. So what are the reasons why the decision on how money is allocated to special schools called in?

The reasons given were

  • The banding proposals (para 2.7) are not based on a clear costing of the needs of the children.
  • In particular, the needs of the children with profound and multiple learning difficulties should be quantified.
  • There is a clear need for one to one in terms of adult presence for many of the children. There is also a need for teaching and other staff. These are in addition to the running costs of the school.
  • In the case of the Lyndale, the funding proposals will result in the closure of the school. This has not been made clear in the paper.

So (again) what does that all mean in plain English?

  • The report and its appendices on banding proposals can be read on Wirral Council’s website. Each child would be placed into one of five bands. Each special school would get £10,000 + an amount depending on which band the child was in. These extra amounts range from band one (approximately an extra £1,000) to band five (an extra £16,000+). The band for the children with the highest needs assumes a staff ratio of 1:6 plus two teaching assistants, plus medical support. Lyndale School has children that would be placed in the new bands three to five (£17,000 to £26,000+ per pupil).
  • Some of the children at Lyndale School require a staffing ratio of one to one. Even if these children were in band five (the highest band), the money that Lyndale school received under the new policy wouldn’t Lyndale School’s costs. Although there is flexibility in band five, Lyndale School’s average cost per pupil in 2012-13 was £33,105.
  • If the banding proposals were adopted it would lead to a shortfall in Lyndale School’s budget of £72,000, getting worse in future years which would lead to the school closing.

So what about the minimum funding guarantee that means that Wirral Council can’t reduce the funding to schools by more than 1.5% compared to last year?

Wirral Council have applied to the Education Funding Agency for an exemption from the minimum funding guarantee which would guarantee schools receive at least 98.5% of what they received last year. The outcome of Wirral Council’s application is at the time of writing unknown.

What about the special schools contingency of £908,900?

Some of the contingency could be used to fund Lyndale School’s deficit in 2014-15. However, Lyndale School’s deficit is predicted to be larger in 2015-16 than in 2014-15. If the banding policy is agreed, it’ll lead to the closure of Lyndale School at some point in the future.

What about the SEN (Special Educational Needs) underspend in 2013-14 of £500,000?

Some of the SEN (Special Educational Needs) underspend could be used to fund Lyndale School’s deficit in 2014-15. However, an underspend in the SEN budget can’t be guaranteed for next year and a more long-term solution is needed.

What about the petition against closure of Lyndale School?

The petition (at the time of writing) is of 6,407 signatures against closure of Lyndale School.

Who will decide the call ins?

There are fifteen councillors on the Coordinating Committee who are Cllr Steve Foulkes (Chair (Labour)), Cllr John Salter (Labour), Cllr Jean Stapleton (Labour), Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour), Cllr Denise Realey (Labour), Cllr Pat Glasman (Labour), Cllr Paul Doughty (Labour), Cllr Bernie Mooney (Labour), Cllr Denise Roberts (Labour), Cllr Alan Brighouse (Liberal Democrat), Cllr Leah Fraser (Conservative), Cllr Adam Sykes (Conservative), Cllr David Elderton (Conservative), Cllr Wendy Clements (Conservative) and Cllr Andrew Hodson (Conservative). Their contact details can be found on Wirral Council’s website.

In addition to these fifteen, there are a further three with voting rights who are Mrs H Shoebridge (parent governor representative), Mrs Nicola Smith (parent governor representative) and Damien Cunningham (representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury). At the time of writing the Diocese of Chester (Church of England) haven’t made a nomination to the committee.

If the Labour councillors (9) voted to uphold the Labour Cabinet’s decisions and the other councillors (6), parent governor representatives (2) and Damien Cunningham voted against it would be a tied 9:9 vote. If that was the case the Chair Cllr Steve Foulkes would have a casting vote.

Are there any more points?

Closing down a school they may have been at for years and moving them elsewhere to a different place, with different staff and different pupils would be very difficult and traumatic for them (and their parents) to cope with. If the school closed and the children would lose staff that had spent many years learning what their needs were. Some of the parents have said if the school is closed they will home school their children instead.

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Have the “bureaucratic machinations” returned to Wirral Council?

Have the “bureaucratic machinations” returned to Wirral Council?

Have the “bureaucratic machinations” returned to Wirral Council?

                         

Labour's Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explains at a Wirral Council Cabinet meeting why he thinks the Cabinet should agree to consultation on closure of Lyndale School
Labour’s Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explaining at a Wirral Council Cabinet meeting why he thinks the Cabinet should agree to consultation on closure of Lyndale School

Following yesterday’s blog post Surjit Tour emailed councillors (and myself) with his advice. My two replies to his advice are below. We’ll see what happens next.

from: Tour, Surjit surjittour [at] wirral.gov.uk
to: john.brace [at] gmail.com

cc: “Davies, Phil L. (Councillor)” ,
“Smith, Tony A. (Councillor)” ,
“Foulkes, Steve (Councillor)” ,
“Brighouse, Alan (Councillor)” ,
“Hodson, Andrew C. (Councillor)” ,
“Harney, Tom (Councillor)” ,
“Green, Jeff E. (Councillor)” ,
“Gilchrist, Phil N. (Councillor)” ,
Cllr Ian Lewis ,
“Povall, Cherry (Councillor)” ,
“Williams, Patricia M. (Councillor)” ,
“Burgess, Graham” ,
“Roberts, Andrew D.”

date: 11 February 2014 17:42
subject: RE: Cabinet (12th February 2014) Agenda Item 7 Schools Budget 2014/15 and call in of Cabinet minute 140 (proposals for changes to school top up payments for students with high needs)
mailed-by: wirral.gov.uk

Dear Mr Brace

Thank you for your email.

In the event that the Schools Budget is approved at the Council meeting on 25 February, that does not preclude any action that may or may not arise as a result of the call-in hearing scheduled for 27 February being followed through.

Paragraph 4.6.5 of the Schools Budget Report outlines the purpose of the SEN Top Up Contingency, one of which is:

“Any unforeseen consequences arising from the implementation and review of High Needs Top Ups.”

The call-in therefore remains a valid issue to be determined.

Yours sincerely

Surjit Tour
Head of Legal & Member Services
and Monitoring Officer
Department of Transformation and Resources
Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council
Town Hall
Brighton Street
Wallasey
Wirral
CH44 8ED

Tel: 0151 691 8569
Fax: 0151 691 8482
Email: surjittour [at] wirral.gov.uk

Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk

First reply (to same recipients as above)

Dear Surjit Tour,

Thank you for your email. You are right that the report to Cabinet states at 4.6.5 “Any unforeseen consequences arising from the implementation and review of High Needs Top Ups” and imply in your email that this “review of High Needs Top Ups” refers to the call in meeting on the 27th February.

This is also what was stated at 2.6.5 in the report that went to the Schools Forum meeting of the 22nd January 2014 (agenda item 4 Schools Budget Report 2014/15) published on the 17th January 2014 (see
http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50016401/Schools%20Budget%20Report%202014-2015.pdf ).

That report was published one day after it was decided at Cabinet (minute 140) on the item Proposals for Changes to School Top Up Payments for Students with High Needs that “the Special Schools Contingency is used to support specialist provision facing financial difficulties (amendment to the second sentence of recommendation 3)” (a decision that was called in).

Therefore

a) the special schools contingency existed in a report before the item was called in and
b) is part of the decision at the 16th January Cabinet that was called in.

Bearing this in mind, perhaps this explains to you my view that the schools budget report going to Cabinet tomorrow contains elements of a decision that have been called in.

Finally, as the line “Any unforeseen consequences arising from the implementation and review of High Needs Top Ups” existed in a report to the Schools Forum before this item was called in, it therefore cannot be referring to any decision arising from the call ins or the call in meeting.

Yours sincerely,
John Brace

2nd reply (same recipients plus Emma Degg also copied in)

Dear Mr Tour (and others),

In order to make my views crystal clear I will outline a few different scenarios that will result should the Schools Budget for 2014/15 be agreed by Cabinet this evening and referred to Budget Council on the 25th February 2014.

Scenario 1

All members of the Coordinating Committee deciding the call ins are also members of Council. They each vote on the budget (including the schools budget), voting on an identical budget & policy to the decision which has been called in. This year because of a change in legislation it will be done as a card vote. The press will report how politicians voted and this information will be known by the public on the 26th. Some people will therefore think that when councillors meet again on the 27th that they have already made their minds up and that whatever happens at the Coordinating Committee they will vote the way they did 48 hours previous to the meeting.

It will be seen as predetermination of the call in matters at best and a prejudicial interest at worst. The constitution describes the Coordinating Committee as an overview and scrutiny committee and the Code of Conduct has this to state on such matters:

12. In relation to any business before an overview and scrutiny committee of the Council (or of a sub-committee of such a committee) where –

…….

12.3 that business relates to a decision made (whether implemented or not) or action taken by you (whether by virtue of the Authority’s Constitution or under delegated authority from the Leader):

You may attend a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committees of the Council or of a sub committees of such a committee but only for the purpose of making representations, answering questions or giving
evidence relating to the business, provided that the public are also allowed to attend the meeting for the same purposes, whether under a statutory right or otherwise.

In other words, voting at Budget Council two days before the call ins is seen as according to the Code of Conduct as generating a prejudicial interest that would prevent councillors voting at the
Coordinating Committee.

Scenario 2
The Schools Budget is referred to Budget Council. Councillors on the Coordinating Committee declare a prejudicial interest in the vote on the schools budget by virtue of the call in and don’t participate in that part of the Budget setting process.

Scenario 3
The Schools Budget is decided at the reserve budget meeting after the Coordinating Committee decides the call ins (which would seem to be the most sensible option).

Finally, I will point out that officers re tabling identical proposals (that have been called in but not yet decided) is certainly not a good idea as it puts councillors in the difficult position as outlined above. I’ve made my position clear that the constitution states “and no action will be taken to implement the decision until the call-in procedure has been completed.”

Do you genuinely believe that the Cabinet making a decision to recommend the Schools Budget to Budget Council, with identical proposals in it to that which have been called in is complying with this part of the constitution? Is the Council’s constitution just being ignored or do you just have a massively different interpretation on words whose meaning would seem crystal clear to me?

I hope you reconsider and to avoid the above scenarios happening and advise Cabinet that the schools budget would be best decided at the reserve Budget Council meeting after the call in meeting has met and reached a decision on the call ins.

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Incredible: Lyndale School call in causes second constitutional crisis for Wirral Council!

Incredible: Lyndale School call in causes second constitutional crisis for Wirral Council!

Incredible: Lyndale School call in causes second constitutional crisis for Wirral Council!

                            

Labour's Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explains at a Wirral Council Cabinet meeting why he thinks the Cabinet should agree to consultation on closure of Lyndale School
Labour’s Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explaining at a Wirral Council Cabinet meeting why he thinks the Cabinet should agree to consultation on closure of Lyndale School

This is a rather complicated saga, so it’s best to go back to the beginning and have a recap of what’s happened so far in chronological order. Way back on the 16th January despite an emotional plea from a parent, the Labour Cabinet decided to consult on closing Lyndale School. At the same meeting the same Cabinet also decided to agree to change how they divide up funding for pupils at special schools (which has an effect on Lyndale School).

On the 20th January I wrote a blog post headlined “Was the Wirral Council Cabinet decision to consult on closing Lyndale School lawful?” which included two polls. The first poll asked readers if they thought the decision was lawful (so far 92.31% think it wasn’t and 7.69% that it was) as well as a second poll on whether the decision should be called in (75% voted yes, 25% voted no).

The two decisions were then called in by councillors. The decision to consult on closing Lyndale was called in by Cllr Tom Harney, Cllr Phil Gilchrist, Cllr Jeff Green, Cllr Ian Lewis, Cllr Cherry Povall and Cllr Pat Williams. The decision on allocating funding (called proposals for change to school top up payments for students with high needs) was also called in by the same six councillors.

A meeting of the Coordinating Committee was arranged to consider the call in which prompted a blog post titled Is the Lyndale School call in going to the wrong Wirral Council Committee? along with another poll that asked whether it should be decided by the Coordinating Committee or the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee along with another poll in which 100% voted that it should be decided by the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee.

I wrote a further blog post on the 4th February headlined The Reasons why Wirral Council’s Lyndale School call in is being delayed. Councillors on the Coordinating Committee met on the 5th February (covered in “When is a call in meeting not a call in meeting? When it’s adjourned…”) and agreed a recommendation to adjourn the call in meeting to the 27th February until after the Council meeting on the 25th so that Council could co-opt the necessary parent governor representatives and Diocesan body representatives onto the Coordinating Committee.

At this point it’s worth pointing out what it states in Wirral Council’s constitution on call ins (it’s at 35 (3)(b) (page 138) if you wish to check this out for yourself) “(b) The relevant Chief Officer and all members will be notified of a call-in immediately and no action will be taken to implement the decision until the call-in procedure has been completed. A decision of the Cabinet, a committee of the Cabinet or individual Cabinet member may be called in only once.”

I’ve added some underlining to emphasise the bit “no action will be taken to implement the decision until the call-in procedure has been completed”.

However agenda item seven for tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting has an agenda item “Schools Budget 2014/15”, which is officer’s recommendation to Cabinet for the schools budget which will then be recommended to Budget Council on the 25th February.

At 4.3.5 of the report to Cabinet it states the following:

4.3.5 High Needs Block

The make up of this block is complex. It is based on the “place plus” system introduced by the DfE [Department for Education] from April 2013 and includes:

  • Special schools (pre and post 16), school bases and independent non-maintained special schools. All receive a base level funding of £10,000 per place following agreement of place numbers with the Education Funding Agency (EFA).
  • Alternative Provision Bases and WASP. This provision is funded at £8,000 per place.
  • Additional funding over and above that provided for places will be paid in the form of “top ups”. These will be provided on a per pupil basis. The top up, or “plus” element of funding, is based on the agreed assessed needs of pupils and is paid by the “commissioner” responsible; this may be Wirral
    Children’s Services, a school or another Local Authority. In 2014/15 it is anticipated that a new banded top up system (with 5 bands) will be introduced and will be used to allocate funding to special schools, resourced based and alternative provision.
  • The costs of all education and training for post 16 specialist and LLDD provision (top ups) to colleges and private providers.
  • The Hospital Schools budget

Compare the above to the report titled Proposals for Changes to School Top Up Payments for Students with High Needs which went to be decided by Cabinet on the 16th January, resulted in Cabinet agreeing the proposals and was then called in (quoted below).

2.2 “with each school receiving an amount of £10,000 per place and an additional top up based on individual pupil needs.”

2.4 “Top Up funding (ie the “Plus” element) reflects the additional support costs in excess of place funding for individual pupils and students and takes into account factors such as the pupils individual needs and facilities / support provided.”

“This is a significant piece of work that has been undertaken with Wirral’s Schools Forum’s SEN Finance Steering Group, the outcome of which has resulted in a banded approach to top ups for:”

“Students in post 16 provision with element three costs; Further Education Colleges, Sixth Forms and Independent Specialist Providers (ISP);

Basically the proposals mean the same (but written with slightly different words). If these recommendations from officers on the Schools Budget for 2014/15 are agreed by Cabinet, it will become recommendations to Budget Council on the 25th February (and recommendations to Council can’t be called in). If that’s the case then the call in decision by the Coordinating Committee on the 27th February on the top up payments for students with high needs becomes a fait accompli as the decision on the Schools Budget for 2014/15 will have been made already by Council on the 25th February.

I pointed this out by email to the Cabinet Member (Cllr Tony Smith), Cllr Phil Davies (who chairs Cabinet meetings), the Chair and spokespersons on the Coordinating Committee, the councillors who called in the decisions, Surjit Tour (Wirral Council’s Monitoring Officer), Graham Burgess (Chief Executive who has a role in the call in process) and Andrew Roberts (the officer who wrote the report to Cabinet) which outlined what had happened and contained the following four questions.

I know there is a reserve Budget meeting set aside for the 4th March. Therefore my questions are:

1) Would it not be better to consider the schools budget on the 4th March as by this time the decisions reached by the call in meeting on the 27th February will be known?

2) Bearing in mind the constitutional requirement that “no action will be taken to implement the decision until the call-in procedure has been completed” can either the Cabinet on Wednesday recommend a schools budget (when an element of that budget being proposed has been called in) or Council on the 25th February decide on a schools budget (for the same reasons) without being accused of making a decision in breach of Wirral’s constitution?

3) If the schools budget is to be decided on the 4th March, will an extra Cabinet meeting be required between the 27th February and the 4th March to consider any recommendations arising from the call in
meeting?

and

4) In order for these decisions to be made according to Wirral Council’s constitution does this require the budget council procedure (agreed by Cabinet on the 16th January) to be altered so that the
schools budget is dealt with as a separate matter to the rest of the Budget?

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I look forward to either hearing a response to these questions at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting or receiving a formal response by email before then.

So far I’ve received responses from two councillors. One just stated “Thank you for the information”, the reply from the other councillor stated that they’d follow up my query with the report author Andrew Roberts.

So what’s really going on? The line written in the report “In 2014/15 it is anticipated that a new banded top up system (with 5 bands) will be introduced and will be used to allocate funding to special schools, resourced based and alternative provision.” makes it sound like the outcome of the call in is being predicted by an officer before it’s even taken place! So what’s really going on? Does anybody really know or is this just the uniquely strange and peculiar way that Wirral Council makes decisions?

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