Friday brief: Northants education authorities told to draw up recovery plans as high needs spend soars
Plus our usual news round up from across the county
The county’s two education authorities are having to draw up recovery plans with the Department for Education (DfE) after both bust their high needs budgets.
North Northants LEA is anticipating it will be £9m over its schools budget by the end of the financial year in April and the West LEA is predicting it will overspend by £4.4m.
Both are predicting deficits again in the next financial year and for the first time will enter into recovery plans with central government. Large numbers of councils have had to agree to recovery plans, largely because their special educational needs costs have rocketed in recent years due to the lack of places and more children requiring specialist support. The recovery plans impose conditions, such as councils having to reshape SEND services with a move towards more inclusivity.
Speaking at the schools forum last week the North LEA’s assistant director of education Neil Goddard said the colossal rise in requests for Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs) assessment was having an impact. He said typically before covid the authority would have expected 30 requests for RHCPs, but in October and November there were 110 requests for EHCP assessments each month.
He said the recovery plan which would be entered into with the DfE was not a ‘panacea’ and said while currently the overspends were ringfenced and so did not impact the overall council budget, this could change and so he has made councillors aware of the possibility.
This coming financial year, due to funding cuts from the government, the council’s combined budget - which includes the school effectiveness team - will be cut by more than half to just over £244,000 (down from £640,000).
Neil Goddard said the school effectiveness team will be protected this year, but the schools forum needed to have conversations about what would happen in the following year.
“I am particularly keen to support the school effectiveness team, because in my view they do much more than school effectiveness in its perfect sense. Because we have not got strongly developed early help services, they actually work much more broadly than just with maintained schools.”
But he said the time had come to redefine what the school effectiveness services offers and how it is funded.
He also said providing high quality alternative provision, for pupils not in mainstream education was an issue. Each pupil attending the CE Academy and Spires Academy is now having to be safeguard checked by his staff fortnightly.
Ofsted is currently doing an inspection of the special educational needs service for North Northamptonshire.
News in brief
Both of the county’s acute hospitals declared critical incidents yesterday following large numbers of attendance at accident and emergency.
Dr Imogen Staveley, Interim Chief Medical Officer at NHS Northamptonshire Integrated Care Board said:
“This is an exceptional situation and we are doing everything in partnership across the NHS and Social Care to resolve it. I would ask patients to assist the NHS by choosing which service to access when they are unwell, only call 999 in a true emergency and to access alternative services where possible. We assure the public that all emergency services remain open and available whilst we discharge patients from hospital to the most appropriate setting for their ongoing care.”
Leicester Royal Infirmary has also declared a critical incident. All three hospitals are now led by the same chief executive, Richard Mitchell, who took over in October.
Plans by West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) to evict Northampton Town Council from the Guildhall have been criticised by the Labour opposition.
The council’s decision to remove the town council from the historic building is part of plans to move staff into headquarters One Angel Square from offices across the West Northants area. The coroners service will move into the guildhall offices and the mayor’s office will remain, rather than kicking out the mayor for the chairman of WNC to use as had been suggested.
Leader of the Labour group at WNC Wendy Randall said:
“The Labour Group is perplexed and infuriated by WNC’s decision to evict Northampton Town Council from its historic home at the Guildhall as part of it’s “Office Optimisation” Plans.
“Moving the town council makes no economic sense. The £350,000-a-year savings will be from the closure and sale/lease of the Guildhall Extension, nothing to do with the historic part.
“Northampton Town Council pay us (WNC) an annual rent of around £85,000. This is an income stream that will be lost if they are forced to leave next year and we are not aware of any business case to support evicting them.”
WNC leader Jonathan Nunn has said the reshuffle is to save taxpayers money being spent on surplus office space.
Campaign group 1000 Voices held a protest at the Northampton Guildhall on Wednesday night to mark the first Clean Air Night - a campaign set up by Global Action Plan to educate the public on dangerous levels of harmful particulates in built-up areas.
Campaigners have been coming together in recent months to pressure West Northamptonshire Council to ‘clean up on Northampton’s toxic air’ after numerous studies showed Northampton to be among the worst local areas for poor air quality. One study compared the intake of toxins from breathing Northampton’s air to smoking 189 cigarettes annually, the highest number in the UK.
The group wore HAZMAT suits and masks and said in a statement:
“It’s important to stress the impact of air pollution on the very young, and even babies still in the womb. These toxins, largely from wood burners and motor vehicles, are so tiny that they enter the body through the lungs and cause horrific illnesses including premature birth, stunted growth, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Expectant mothers are often unaware that these toxins cause harm to their babies before they even enter the world. Many people don’t realise that burning wood is not only incredibly harmful to health, but it’s also typically far more expensive than alternative ways of heating homes.”
The group is asking local residents to add their name to the campaign and to join them at peaceful gatherings and community building events by signing up on their website at www.umbrellafair.org/1000voices
Rushden councillor Gill Mercer will take the space on the North Northamptonshire executive made vacant after MP hopeful Helen Harrison stood down to concentrate on her Westminster bid.
Mrs Mercer will take on the adult services portfolio. Her husband Andy had been an executive member until standing down last year.
The paywall has now been removed from our special report published earlier this week about the regional flood committee. Read it - it’s hopefully more interesting than it sounds, with details on the recent Billing Aquadrome flood and shows the small sums being spent in Northamptonshire on flood management.