Schools warned of potential £5m blackhole in funding by 2023 if no action taken

James Bagley. Local Democracy Reporter

Schools warned of potential £5m blackhole in funding by 2030 if no action taken

Schools have been warned of a potential £5m funding blackhole in the borough by 2023 if no action is taken.

At a virtual schools’ forum meeting on Thursday, October 21, members were told the borough could be seeing a £3.4m deficit in its dedicated school grant (DSG) – a ring-fenced allocation of government money to fund schools and services, by March 2022.

James Norris, head of finance at Achieving for Children, which delivers children’s services on behalf of the council, warned they are seeing a £1.75m overspend in the high needs block this year and a brought forward deficit of £1.79m.

The high needs block is used to fund and support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), which the report states they are seeing increased costs relating to the provision of Independent Special schools and a spike in demand for SEND services as a result of the pandemic.

Costs of staffing in schools are also going up, which is impacting the DSG.

As the budget is in a deficit position, an unearmarked reserve of £134,000 can no longer be held, resulting in a combined blackhole of £3.4m in the DSG.

The total DSG is nearly £134m and the deficit represents 2.5 per cent of the total allocation.

Mr Norris said they could see a £5m blackhole by March 2023 if they 'do nothing', but they are doing better than other local authorities such as Kingston who are running at a seven per cent deficit.

However, the director of children’s services Kevin McDaniel warned the Royal Borough is 'rapidly catching up' with the South East’s DSG deficit average of up to six per cent as three years ago, the Royal Borough had a zero deficit.

He said: “The fact that we’re overspending by £1.7m to £2m every year would mean that we’ve got significant work to do to eventually reduce our expenditure in-year or increase the income that goes towards the cost of those services.

“So, I think our position is worsening.”

It was heard a deficit management plan will be drawn up and submitted to the Department for Education to address the pressures the DSG is seeing.

This could mean some ‘underutilised’ commissioned services could be halted or delivered differently, which could potentially merge with other services.

However, it was not stated at the meeting which services this could affect.

Mr McDaniel also spoke of concern their overall budget settlement could decline next year if the number of school placements continues to fall.

He said placements in Windsor and Maidenhead have fallen this year but does not know if it was due to the pandemic or ‘reduced migration’ caused by Brexit.

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