Cheshire East would have to increase council tax by 20 per cent just to cover the deficit in its special needs budget, the council leader has said.
Cllr Sam Corcoran (Lab) has called on all councillors to look into the SEND provision (special educational needs and disabilities) so they can debate the issue at the next meeting of full council and come up with suggestions as to how the system can be improved.
Cheshire East’s special needs budget deficit currently stands at £46.9m and that is forecast to rise to a massive £306.9m by 2028.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the full council, Cllr Corcoran said: “I am sure that all Labour and Independent councillors are aware of the issues, but I was alarmed to hear at a recent children and families committee meeting that some members are not aware of the significant overspends – currently £40m a year – or that, under government instruction, these overspends are put into a negative reserve.
“In my opinion a negative reserve is a financial nonsense that brushes the problem under the carpet.”
He said the County Councils Network has done research to show that the spend is inversely proportional to deprivation.
“The government has already awarded councils in the safety valve process £973m, with £140m going to Kent and £100m going to Surrey. This is a national problem,” said the council leader.
“To give an indication of the scale of the problem, it would require a 20 per cent increase in council tax just to cover the SEND deficit in Cheshire East. We need action by government.“
He added: “My own view is that the current system is too adversarial. It is not liked by parents. It is hugely expensive and is biased against those in deprived areas. I would like to see improved provision in mainstream schools.”
The growing deficit was discussed at last month’s meeting of children and families when the committee narrowly voted to approve the DSG (dedicated schools grant) management plan.
The plan was approved on the casting vote of chair Carol Bulman (Middlewich, Lab) who said she believed the committee had no choice as, without the mitigation measures, the deficit was forecast to be £536m by the end of 2027/28.
The SEND budget deficit will be debated at the December meeting of full council.