‘Chronic underfunding’ blamed for major shake-up of council budgets

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Education bosses have blamed the government’s ‘chronic underfunding’ on plans for a major shake-up of budgets.

Durham County Council has been forced to apply directly to the Department for Education for permission to redirect funding streams to cover an overspend of more than £5million.

The cash gap is in the county’s High Needs Block, which covers costs for special education needs and disabilities (SEND) pupils.

Since 2015, the number of SEND children in the county has leapt by more than 400 per cent, from 166 to 833 this year.

Speaking at this morning’s cabinet meeting, Coun Olwyn Gunn, cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, said: “I’ve urged the government to listen and provide more funding, but I’m not the only politician doing this and we’re not the only council shouting about funding.

“We don’t stand alone, our voice is one of many across the country.”

Councillors agreed an option to request a transfer £4,461,634 from the Schools Block of the council’s Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG.

It is estimated next year’s DSG will be worth more than £298million to the council and will cover about 64,300 primary and secondary school pupils.

However, before the cash can be reallocated, permission must be granted by the the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds.

“Government funding has not increased in line with inflation for years now,” Coun Gunn told cabinet.

“We’ve had seven years of austerity and our schools have faced real terms cuts of about 15 per cent since it commenced.

“Had the government provided sufficient funding to meet cost pressures on our schools, the school would, on average, have £120,000 more per primary school and £600,000 more per secondary school.

“In total, there would be £40m more DSG for schools in County Durham.”

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service