Those with long memories will remember that the reason given for closing Lyndale School by Wirral Council officers was that funding for special schools would change starting in the 2016-17 academic year. Officers confidently stated that instead of funding being based on place numbers it would instead be based on how many pupils were at a school. In their view this meant that Lyndale School not being financially viable as the large (and increasing) difference between pupils and places at Lyndale School would result in a shortfall in funding.
A report to yesterday’s Wirral Schools Forum states (EFA stands for Education Funding Agency) “In respect of High Needs Funding (funding for special schools, bases, non-maintained special schools, independent special schools, alternative provision, EMAP and the Hospital School) the EFA have indicated the allocation for place funding and other high needs funding will remain at the same level as 2015-16.”
This was confirmed in the operational guide which states in a section on high needs funding starting on page 30, “The full year 2016 to 2017 allocation will therefore be based on the 2015 to 2016 academic year place numbers, and for the remainder of the high needs allocation there will be no change to what was allocated for 2015 to 2016.”
The first main agenda item was consultation on the Local School Funding Formula – Verbal Update (Consultation letter to schools attached). There had only been three or four responses to the consultation so it was extended to the end of term. There would be a further report back to the Wirral Schools Forum meeting in January 2015. The officer Andrew Roberts was not sure whether this was being the proposals were not contentious or whether schools needed more time to answer the questions asked (the questions asked as part of the consultation are below):
Brian Jordan, headteacher at Bebington High Sports College said that the proposed changes had a bigger effect on schools such as Bebington High Sports College as it had higher proportions of pupils attracted the pupil premium.
Other members of the Wirral Schools Forum commented on the proposed changes, Andrew Roberts replied, Brian Jordan made a further point and the Chair thanked people for their “points well made” and moved to item 3 (PFI and Central Budget Review).
Andrew Roberts gave a long introduction to this report and appendix which was about making permanent savings to the central budget of £2.3 million to pay for the costs of PFI to the Council’s contractor. He referred to the Schools Forum Working Party and comments that were made on the various proposals. He was asking for the School’s Forum’s views on the proposals which would make up the budget which would be brought back to the Wirral Schools Forum in January 2015.
The Chair stated he would run through the proposed savings individually to see if there was any opposition.
3.1 £23,600 saving in admissions – no opposition
3.2 £200,000 saving from school closure/retirement costs – no opposition
3.3 £25,000 saving from School Sports Coordinator – there was opposition and some explanation from officers explaining what this saving was not about, it was suggested by officers that even if it was deleted from the budget that in the future schools might be able to buy it back as a traded service
3.4 £180,000 saving in school intervention – there was opposition to this
3.5 £120,000 saving from City Learning Centres – there was opposition to this
3.6 £45,000 saving from LACES – no opposition
3.7 £11,600 saving from clinical waste disposal – no opposition
3.8 £19,800 saving from use of swimming baths – no opposition
3.9 £200,000 saving from PPM (planned preventative maintenance) – no opposition
3.10 £25,000 saving from insurances – no opposition
3.11 £600,000 saving from SEN (special educational needs) top ups – opposition
3.12 £200,000 saving from statements – no opposition
3.13 £200,000 saving from support for SEN – no opposition
Here is what one Schools Forum member had to say on making a £600,000 saving from SEN top ups which is at this point in the video, “I think the special schools have written to Andrew [Roberts] further to that answer about £600,000 coming out of SEN contingency. The SEN contingency is around £900,000 but the question was asked as to why it hadn’t been distributed to those children with the statements by the top up banding system?
The top up banding, the top up errm allocations that were decided in 2012 for 2013/14, based on the staff budgets with an understanding that we’d look at the needs of the children in those schools and look at comparative neighbouring authorities. We’ve since looked at comparative neighbouring authorities and Wirral is by far the lowest, for an SLD school on Wirral we pay £7,000 above, Knowsley and Sefton paid ten and a half, Cheshire paid fourteen and Halton paid twenty-five. The … seems a similar picture, Wirral pay eight, Halton pay between seven and twenty-five, Cheshire paid thirteen and that goes with children not just within the special schools sector but children with base provision within primary and secondary as well.
And we’ve got to remove £600,000 suddenly gives the local authority no way to adjust that top up either today or in the future. Once it’s gone it’s gone! The special schools are also facing increased costs of the TA [teaching assistant] regrading. The TA … that are now in effect for £2,500 for each member of staff and considering the amount of staff we have within the special schools sector and within the primary base and secondary base provision. It’s going to have a huge impact upon budgets and it was felt it was a huge amount to come out of one sector.”
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Is Lyndale School under threat just so Wirral Council can provide a further £2 million to a company that already has plenty?
Is Lyndale School under threat just so Wirral Council can provide a further £2 million to a company that already has plenty?
Last Thursday morning I visited Lyndale School in Eastham. This was my first visit, although regular readers of this blog will know that I have written extensively on the topic and filmed many public meetings of Wirral Council on the many stages involving its potential closure in January 2016.
Thankfully the Lyndale School appears to be behaving in a far more “open and transparent” way than Wirral Council is!
I wanted to start this piece by describing my impressions of the school as some of my observations about a visit to Lyndale School raise further unanswered questions.
On the same plot of land as the Lyndale School is also Eastham Youth Centre. Clearly the current consultation is about the Lyndale School, however I know relatively little about this Youth Centre. Is this Youth Centre open, closed, working or threatened with closure itself? I don’t really know the answer to that question and would appreciate somebody better informed, or more closely connected to Eastham than I to leave a comment.
Moving to the Lyndale School itself, it looks from the outside like many other primary schools do on the Wirral. Unlike when I went to school in the 1980/1990s where there literally was an “open door” policy at primary schools, these days (as is common with all other schools on the Wirral now) you need to press a buzzer on an intercom system to be let in.
There is then a reception area on the right, which at the time of my visit had many stuffed toy animals on the counter. To the left is a visitors book for visitors to sign and visitors badges on which the names of visitors can be written. On the wall is also a photo of each member of staff who works there and their job title.
My personal view on the latter point, is that organisations that do such a thing, tend to be more open and transparent than those who try to hide behind a bewildering, faceless and largely unaccountable bureaucracy.
As we had both been walking up from Eastham Rake train station, someone we both knew, who lives in Eastham had been passing in their car and had kindly offered us both a lift to the Lyndale School. So we both arrived earlier than I expected, which gave me a chance to see people coming and going for a while and how things were going. Despite the pressures the Lyndale School is going through, staff were professional and the “open door” policy referred to at the call in I saw in action as one of the parents arrived while we were waiting. If a decision is made to close the Lyndale School, this is one of the matters that the parents of the children at Lyndale School have expressed concern about as they cannot see this in operation at the other schools suggested.
There is obviously a lot of trust that exists between the parents of children at Lyndale School and the staff there. Certainly there is (despite the stress the School is under because of the political issues) a lot of goodwill between the parents and staff at the school. That’s something that never appears on Wirral Council’s balance sheet as it’s something that can’t be quantified. This is part of the reason the parents of children at Lyndale School want the School to stay as it is, as they don’t see the same ethos at Lyndale School at either Stanley School or Elleray Park.
Echoing what I have heard Julia Hassall (Director of Children’s Services at Wirral Council) say many times, I will also make the following point. Some schools are closed down because they are “failing schools”. Lyndale School doesn’t fall into that category and that is not one of the reasons behind the consultations on its closure. I wish to make that as clear as I can (as has Julia Hassall at many public meetings). The view from the public can be to jump to the conclusion that schools are only threatened with closure because things at them are going pear-shaped. This is not the case at Lyndale School and I will also point out that no final decision on closure of Lyndale School has yet been made by Wirral Council’s Cabinet.
I have referred before in articles describing Lyndale School as a “hospital school” as personally I think it is probably a more accurate description of what goes on in Lyndale School. Think of the political fuss that would happen if say in the lead up to a General Election (and I’ll point out now that I know of no such plans) that there was a consultation on closing the children’s ward and the hospital school at Arrowe Park Hospital? Think of it purely from that perspective and you can perhaps see how emotional an issue it is for both the people directly involved and the wider community.
There are many new matters involving Lyndale School I could write about but instead I will explain what I was at Lyndale School for. There was a very interesting meeting of the Friends of Lyndale School Association held there which was a private meeting, so there is a limit about what I will write here about it.
However, I had better explain what and who the Friends of Lyndale School Association are. The Friends of Lyndale School Association are a small charity set up in March of this year and registered with the Charity Commission in June. Their charitable objects are:
To advance the education of pupils in the school in particular by:
developing effective relationships between the staff, parents and others associated with the school;
engaging in activities or providing facilities or equipment which support the school and advance the education of the pupils.
It’s hard to describe exactly what the Friends of Lyndale School Association is, but the closest easily understood comparison to it, is a parent-teacher association or PTA for the Lyndale School. As with all PTAs they raise money to be spent on their charitable objects and you can (if you wish) donate to them online on the webpage on Justgiving website for the Friends of Lyndale School Association.
If the Lyndale School closes, the Friends of Lyndale School Association have made it clear that any remaining funds would be donated to Claire House (which is a children’s hospice on the Wirral). The Wirral Globe are also printing interviews with the parents of Lyndale School (which if you wish to read the first three are on the Wirral Globe website starting here, continuing here and the most recent one is and I will at this stage (and I don’t often do this about someone else in the local media) thank Emma Rigby of the Wirral Globe for her reporting in the Wirral Globe of this story.
Yesterday evening there was supposed to be a meeting of all councillors at Wirral Council. However as most people probably know already a lot of public sector unions went on strike and that meeting was shifted to the evening of the 20th October 2014. One of the matters on the agenda is a minority report (no not the film Minority Report with Tom Cruise this refers to something different) but a minority report about the recent Lyndale School call in.
After the call in meeting on 2nd October 2014, the second consultation on closure of Lyndale School should’ve started as the Cabinet delegated this matter to Julia Hassall. She therefore probably knows more the timescales than I do. As far as I know (and Wirral Council’s constitution has been through a lot of changes in the past few years), a decision of a call in committee is still implemented by officers even if a minority report is submitted to the next Council meeting (which should’ve taken place yesterday evening but was I would guess put back a week because of the strike).
My concerns about the entire process in this matter over the last year and how this has all been done I’ve written about before. I am not going to repeat myself here. There are however concerns about corporate governance at Wirral Council about this matter that I haven’t expressed in public.
Personally I think it is a crying shame, that on an issue as sensitive as Lyndale School, that all political parties now represented on Wirral Council (whether Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem or Green) can’t come to an agreement (behind closed doors if need be) to pause this whole process and have a review.
Wirral Council claim that they can’t keep the Lyndale School open in 2015-16 due to a shortfall between what the Lyndale School predicts they will need and what Wirral Council is willing to give them. The shortfall will be
I have written on this blog before that Wirral Council could easily find this small amount of money if they wished and move it around from existing budgets if the political will was there. In fact papers that went the Wirral Schools Forum last week showed that through reductions in this year’s budget they found ~£2 million. So where’s this money going? It’ll be put in a reserve and used next year to go to Wirral Schools Services Limited who have a PFI Schools contract for various schools (and two city learning centres) with Wirral Council as part of a ~£12 million/year contribution.
Wirral School Services Limited’s account show that for 2014 they had £1.93 million in cash assets, which is £6.33 million in assets minus their £4.39 million in liabilities.
What’s amazing is that a Labour Council, who trumpets its “socialist values” in election leaflets, it is seemingly happy to make £2 million of cuts in year to the Wirral Council’s Schools Budget for this year (which obviously need Wirral Schools Forum approval and Cabinet approval) to help plug a financial gap in the 2015-16 Schools PFI contract, but when it comes to an amount ten times smaller than that to be found no report I’ve seen so far even lists finding the money to keep Lyndale School open in 2015-16 (from such as underspends in existing budgets) as an alternative option!?
Despite the words of Wirral Council in the past that they would put vulnerable people such as the pupils of Lyndale School first, it seems that the school is under threat whilst capitalist greed gobbles up the available funds. If Wirral Council so wished, it could either end or renegotiate the Schools PFI contract. The schools system should not be run to feed the profits of private companies!!! Nor should vulnerable children have such a low priority!!! These are two of my main frustrations with the current situation.
I will repeat again, if you wish to donate to the Friends of Lyndale School Association you can here. The Justgiving website takes a 5% cut of all donations and charges £18 a month to the Friends of Lyndale School Association. However the other 95% (minus £18/month) is paid directly to them.
I know I will continue to get criticism (and I really don’t mind comments on this blog attacking me) from some quarters for how I’m reporting the Lyndale School issue, there has been however nothing so far that convinces me that all the decisions taken by Wirral Council so far have either been taken in the right way or for the right reasons. If everything was done so far “by the book” and in an “open and transparent” way, I would not be as irked by how the matter has happened as I am.
On a personal note, I realise there has been a deterioration in relations between Wirral Council and those associated with the Lyndale School. If other special schools on the Wirral think they will escape whilst Wirral Council’s focus is on Lyndale School, they will need to have a drastic rethink and not bury their heads in the sand. I will repeat here what I said at Lyndale School on Thursday.
There is a current consultation that the government is running on the draft Schools and Early Years Finance (England) Regulations 2014. These are the regulations (a type of law) that Wirral Council has to conform to when setting schools’ budgets annually.
At the moment, because of a part of the law known as the “minimum funding guarantee”, for this 2014-15 year Wirral Council could not drop school budgets such as Lyndale Schools by more than 1.5% based on what their previous year’s budget allocation was.
However the draft regulations being consulted on, whereas they (in draft form) keep the minimum funding guarantee for mainstream schools, get rid of the current minimum funding guarantee for special schools. Personally and I’m going to get quite political now, I think it is morally wrong to protect mainstream funding for mainstream schools, but at the same time allow local councils to (if they so wish) to totally change the budget (and therefore nature) of special schools which can in extreme cases ultimately force them to close. Obviously the draft regulations may be altered post consultation, but you can respond to that consultation run by the Department of Education here. That consultation closes this Friday (17th October) at 5.00pm.
If the new regulations (following consultation) abolish the existing legal protections for special school budgets, it will be perfectly legal for local councils (such as Wirral Council) to come up with a schools funding formula for 2015-16 that leads not just to the potential closure of schools such as the Lyndale School but dramatically changes the funding allocated to other special schools as the new banding system was agreed earlier this year at a call in a controversial 8:7 vote.
Wirral Council has shifted money out of the agreed budget for special schools to cross subsidise other parts of the education system, such as PFI. This is of course entirely legal if officers get the necessary approvals from the Wirral Schools Forum and others. However in other local authorities, an underspend in the special education side of matters would not be used to plug financial holes and financial instability elsewhere. Other Schools Forums take the prudent approach that underspends on the special educational needs side are put in financial reserves earmarked for that area of education.
The spare capacity such as underspends of money that was agreed should be spent in the special schools system, has instead been used to cross subsidise other parts of Wirral Council’s Schools Budget. The money however always seems to flow out of the special schools system and never back to it. Had these political decisions not been made, there would be more than enough money to keep Lyndale School open (at least for the 2015-16 year and possibly beyond). However instead the influence of a large company such as Wirral Schools Services Limited with large financial reserves has been listened to, whilst the pleas of Lyndale School parents merely to continue with what they already have, have so far been met with a lack of political will to explore alternative options and a knee jerk reaction to blame the situation on the Coalition government, the Church of England and even the Lyndale School itself, without apparently getting across to the public the personal responsibility that politicians at Wirral Council must take for each decision they make.
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JOHN BRACE: Thanks once again for agreeing to be interviewed about Lyndale School. We asked Wirral Council for a meeting about Lyndale School but they declined.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: You’re welcome. Well that is a shame I was looking forward to finally meeting people from Wirral Council that I have seen on your video broadcasts. Why do your politicians think they can get away with making decisions like this?
JOHN BRACE: They believe they’re doing the right thing in making “difficult decisions” that are “unpopular”. Also many are what’s in “safe seats”, and many of them (if they choose to do so) will not have to face the public in an election for many years to come.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: But they’re still subject to laws right, that meeting last Thursday the people making the decision didn’t have the required statutory guidance for decision makers which includes the SEN Improvement Test as part of the papers for that meeting?
JOHN BRACE: Well the politicians could have adjourned the meeting and received the correct documents but they chose not to. However you can’t expect politicians to know what they’re doing. They’re elected to look at things from the public perspective and rely on officer advice in such matters. Anyway preparing the papers for a meeting is an officer function in consultation with the Chair.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: You can’t blame this on the committee services officer Lyndzay Roberts though as she only includes in the papers for the meeting what she’s been given in time for it to be published and on that subject why do they keep picking the committee services officer who is a wheelchair user for the Lyndale School meetings?
JOHN BRACE: I’m afraid I can’t read people’s minds and would prefer not to answer that question.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Ahh the “Lynn Wright” defence eh? How much do you get paid then?
JOHN BRACE: Not enough to be answering questions from fictional characters about difficult subjects and I’m assuming your second question is a joke! I know what I got paid last year, so does HMRC. I can estimate what I will get paid this year but as I’m on a fixed amount plus an element that is related to performance, I literally could only tell you it’s above £x,xxx/year. I’m also not sure if you mean gross or net salary as a certain proportion of my earnings I don’t get as they are paid in taxes. I have income from sources other than my salary though.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Ha ha! OK, I won’t pry too much! Back to Lyndale, what was decided on Thursday?
JOHN BRACE: To uphold the Cabinet decision of 4th September 2014 on a majority 9:6 vote.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And remind me what the Cabinet decision of 4th September 2014 was?
JOHN BRACE: Following the first consultation, to have a further second (but different) consultation on closure.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: I thought they’d just had a consultation!
JOHN BRACE: This is a similar but different sort of consultation.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: OK, I never realised closing down a school was made so complicated!
JOHN BRACE: A final decision on closure has not yet been made. This is just an “in principle” decision on closure.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And how much is this all costing?
JOHN BRACE: Who knows? The school closure/retirement costs budget for this year is £326,000. However it looks like £200,000 of that will be moved to another budget heading soon.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Which budget heading?
JOHN BRACE: PFI (private finance initiative).
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why’s that?
JOHN BRACE: Well you always have to plan for the worst and hope for the best with school closures, extra call in meetings, delays, legal challenges et cetera. Sometimes that means budget allocated goes unspent which can be used for other things.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So they’re not going to use a £200,000 underspend on the school closure budget to keep Lyndale open another year (costing ~£190,000)?
JOHN BRACE: No, pending a decision by the Wirral Schools Forum an underspend on the school closure budget will be spent instead next year on the ~£12 million a year PFI contract.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: OK, so when does this second consultation on closing Lyndale School start?
JOHN BRACE: Wirral Council officers had authorisation to proceed with implementation of the Cabinet decision of 4th September 2014, once the call in ended on 2nd October 2014. This has been delegated by the Cabinet to Julia Hassall to implement.
Regulation 8 of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 will require Wirral Council to publish a notice on their website shortly after Julia Hassall implements this decision. This public notice has to contain the date of the decision, a record of the decision and reasons, details of any alternative options considered and rejected and the names of any of the Cabinet that declared a conflict of interest in the decision.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Well how likely are Wirral Council to do that?
JOHN BRACE: They probably won’t. They always have great difficulty in complying with their legal requirements (of which there are many).There have been many decisions delegated by councillors to officers taken since these new regulations came into effect near the start of August 2014 ranging from taxi licences to other types of decision. Another part of the same regulations dealt with filming of public meetings, which thankfully settles a long running industrial relations dispute with us and them. As far as I can tell no public notice has been published by officers relating to those yet?
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why ever not?
JOHN BRACE: Some of the officers to whom the decisions have been delegated to make don’t have the authorisation to publish public notices on the website through the Modgov system. Also this change to legal requirements (which should’ve been implemented from August) would require a change to working practices which requires consultation with the trade unions through the HR department before implementation. Finally, in the vast majority of cases, there are either existing capacity issues with staffing or the decisions are so minor that nobody’s really apart from myself is paying that much attention whether internally or externally while more interesting things are happening and putting the necessary political pressure on to ensure these new regulations are implemented?
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Like what is more interesting?
JOHN BRACE: Like officers’ plan to persuade the Wirral Schools Forum on Wednesday evening to make £1 million of in year cuts this year in 2014/15 to (SEN Top Ups/Independent School Fees (£600,000), statements (£200,000) and support for SEN (£200,000)).
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And why are they proposing to cut a further £1 million from the SEN budget this year?
JOHN BRACE: So they can pay for PFI costs in 2015/16.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And why have PFI costs risen so much?
JOHN BRACE: Because a political decision was made a long time ago to take ~£2 million out of the PFI budget for 2015/16 and get schools to pay for it instead through budget cuts. Also the calculation in the contract bases yearly increases in how much is paid based on the RPI value in December of one year compared to the previous year then multiplied by ninety percent. That’s my simple explanation, the contract itself refers to the 90% as 0.9 and has a formula as to how the increases are calculated.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So if the other special schools (other than Lyndale) think they’re safe they’re not?
JOHN BRACE: Indeed, their budgets were protected this year by dropping by more than 1.5%. Based on the draft regulations circulated by the government (Schools and Early Years Finance (England) Regulations 2014) as part of the current consultation (which closes on October 17th 2014), for special school that protection (assuming the draft regulations aren’t changed) will end in 2015/16. The department for education can be emailed at 2014SchoolFinanceRegulations.Consultation@education.gsi.gov.uk about the policy side of the consultation, or email@example.com or by telephone on 0370 000 2288 or by mail to Department for Education, Beth O’Brien, Department for Education, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT. Further detail about the consultation is on the DfE website here and you can respond online to this consultation here.
However for mainstream it looks like the minimum funding guarantee of at least 98.5% of last years budget will continue in some form?
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So because they can (or assume they can) Wirral Council will target more special schools for cuts in the future?
JOHN BRACE: Probably, but officers don’t decide that however they can recommend that. That’s ultimately decided by the Wirral Schools Forum/councillors.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So is the money they’re getting for schools each year, the ~£175 million they get from the government under the direct schools grant going down next year?
JOHN BRACE: No it isn’t, but a financial and purely local decision by Wirral Council has been made to withdraw the extra funding from Wirral Council that paid for the PFI affordability gap. This amounts to £600,000 this year and millions next year (2015/16). The PFI affordability gap is the total PFI expenditure minus the fixed grant minus the costs schools pay for the services under the PFI contract which is next year about £2.6 million.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So who was the Cabinet Member that originally agreed to this PFI contract in the first place?
JOHN BRACE: Councillor Phil Davies, the current Leader of Wirral Council.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Is there any way out of the contract, when does it end and can it be renegotiated?
JOHN BRACE: Yes, 2031 and yes.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So will they try to renegotiate to save money or terminate it?
JOHN BRACE: Probably not no, management were asked this at the last Wirral Schools Forum, however management only know what they’re told about the contract, they’re not managing it on a day to day basis. Terminating it would be expensive as there is still 17 years left to run, renegotiating would be the more likely option of the two if the political will is there.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So you’re saying the Wirral School Forum members asked Wirral Council officers that hadn’t actually read the contract?
JOHN BRACE: Judging by their answers probably not, managers don’t do things themselves they delegate tasks such as reading contracts and managing contracts to others, maybe not even people that are directly line managed by them but people lower down the food chain.
You can’t expect a senior manager to read such a long contract. Even if they did, it’s hundreds of pages long. It would be very hard to remember all the details unless they brought an electronic searchable version along to the Wirral Schools Forum on say a tablet computer or alternatively circulated an electronic copy to the members of the Wirral Schools Forum. I suppose as a councillor (and member of the Wirral Schools Forum) Cllr Wendy Clements could ask for a copy if she so wished.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So what does the PFI contract actually say about renegotiation?
JOHN BRACE: Wirral Council have to ask the provider (Wirral Schools Services Limited) about changes to the contract and be specific. Wirral Schools Services Limited then have a limited time period in which to respond stating (and I summarise here) whether they agree or not to the changes or not. If they agree they are implemented. However if there is disagreement between Wirral Council and the contractor there is a dispute resolution procedure that can be followed.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So are there any changes they have to agree to?
JOHN BRACE: Yes certain changes they have to agree to. For example there was a legislation change recently on free school meals for children under a certain age. As this was a legislation change, Wirral Council can ask for such changes to be implemented so that Wirral Council does not breach its legal obligations.
There are other categories of change that the contractor has to agree to too.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Indeed, so could Wirral Council’s legal department come up with similar changes which could result in the total cost being lowered?
JOHN BRACE: Wirral Council’s legal department has issues of its own. Also it in order to implement changes quickly it would require agreement of the contractor Wirral Schools Services Limited. Wirral Council would have to seek appropriate authorisation internally from sufficiently senior officers and if it had large budgetary implications in terms of costs or savings then also authorisation from politicians.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So it’s possible?
JOHN BRACE: Anything’s possible. However as the contractor is a large organisation with a turnover off the top of my head of about £62 million, although they are considerably smaller in annual yearly revenue budget than Wirral Council, Wirral Council still get scared of organisations with that sort of financial clout, as well as organisational and legal resources at their disposal.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Does current senior management at Wirral Council want to renegotiate the contract?
JOHN BRACE: If the Wirral Schools Forum and/or politicians in the administration asked them to they’d have to to look into the option (which would depending on the option and the savings/cost implication would affect budgets through to 2031). After negotiations, generally officers would bring back options to politicians/Wirral Schools Forum for a meeting. However the Schools PFI contract is complex, it is hard for anyone to understand easily.
If neither of those formally happen, senior management already have enough on their plate already and lack the current internal capacity as they are already negotiating a 7 year extension to a contract of a similar size (~£12 million a year) with Biffa Waste Services Limited.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: But Biffa is in a different strategic directorate to schools!
JOHN BRACE: Indeed but there are capacity issues at the management level and across the organisation at all levels. This is due to annual leave requirements, illness, other factors and the mere practical constraints of there only ever being so many people to keep all the plates spinning up in the air at once.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Oh dear. So what is the likely net result to be?
JOHN BRACE: Instead of renegotiating savings on a contract, Wirral Council in the absence of either strong leadership at either the Wirral Schools Forum level or political level will probably accept the status quo and instead make in year cuts of a further £1 million to special educational needs. Officers will probably point out that they have tried to make sure the cuts don’t adversely affect front line services, but they will!
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: How on Mars do you make £2 million of in year cuts without it affecting frontline services?
Isn’t it time Wirral Council got their sums right on Lyndale School?
Isn’t it time Wirral Council got their sums right on Lyndale School?
I’ve rewritten this blog post a few times as it is connected to tonight’s Coordinating Committee meeting about Lyndale School and the earlier Cabinet decision on the 4th September 2014.
The funding formula the government will use for allocating schools funding in 2015-16 hasn’t been decided yet and is now out to consultation.
It seems Wirral Council officers have for nearly a year been predicting what form the regulations will take. If changes are made to the regulations as a result of the current consultation it is also possible that this will change how much funding Wirral Council will receive in 2015-16 for Lyndale School.
Certainly it seems entirely premature at this stage to go through a consultation on closure when there is uncertainty at this point as to the funding regime.
However, where does this leave Lyndale School? Looking through the proposed regulations for school funding in 2015-16 a few things did occur to me.
There is a set amount, a lump sum that each primary school receives irrespective of its size of places or pupil numbers. This six-figure sum will be lost to Wirral Council if Lyndale School closes and would ultimately result in less money being spent on children.
One of Wirral Council’s arguments for closing Lyndale School, is that the £33,470 Lyndale would receive in inclusion funding in 2015-16 would be shared between the other ten special schools who would each receive an extra £3,347 each.
Actually that’s wrong. This is because £33,470 is a full year allocation and if Lyndale was closed, it would be done part way through the year (January 2016 is about three-quarters through the 2015-16 financial year). So Lyndale School would get about £25,102 for inclusion funding in that year, which would leave £8,368. This would then be shared between the ten special schools (if Lyndale closed) who would each receive a further £836.80 each, not £3,347.
This was an error in the Cabinet report to its meeting of 4th September 2014, repeated in Surjit Tour’s letter of 30th September 2014 and repeated in the papers for tonight’s meeting. The effect of which is to exaggerate the financial case for closing Lyndale School. To my recollection the error wasn’t highlighted during the Cabinet meeting on the 4th September 2014. However I’m sure there are possibly many other errors in Wirral Council’s education department’s arithmetic, with regards to Lyndale School funding, which I haven’t spotted yet (who in a twist of irony actually also have a duty to teach children mathematics).
I wonder if anyone will mention it tonight or has scrutiny died a horrible death at Wirral Council?
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