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Pilot in pioneering £2bn schools bid

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A group of councils is attempting to seal a historic deal that would see them regain control of nearly £2bn worth of children’s services, including schools funding, LGC has learned.

The Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire (CSW) Total Place pilot has met ministers to outline its bid for control over the dedicated schools grant, on the understanding that it would provide services at a much lower cost.

If successful, the sub-region would control £1.8bn worth of funds - nearly a third of the total expenditure in the area - for schools, youth services, children’s social care and some of the welfare benefits that are targeted on children.

Senior CSW figures conceded that the Department for Children, Schools & Families would be very reluctant to remove the ring fence around the grant but were confident that a deal could be brokered.

“I believe it is do-able. But we just have to accept the fact that the totality of the spend will be lower,” said one senior officer involved in the pilot.

CSW pilot programme director Mike Attwood has been spearheading the talks with Whitehall officials.

Ring-fencing

“It’s early days at the moment but we have outlined what we want and told DCSF officials that there is a need to move away from ring-fencing, and they seem prepared to work with us,” he said.

“We propose one Total Place-based budget with an agreed set of strategic outcomes, a performance agreement and a clear trajectory over time to achieve savings that would be used to reduce overall national debt.”

The talks come as the 13 pilots prepare to submit their final report to the Total Place programme.

In its interim report published in September, CSW set out to concentrate on identifying the duplication of services between different local partners, with a focus on children and young people, in particular those exposed to bullying.

The report admitted: “Although attempts have been made to develop an integrated service approach between NHS and local authority services, this has not progressed as rapidly as desired. Due to pressures on both NHS and other sector budgets there is an imperative to pursue the partnership dividend.”

Dialogue

John Tizard, director of the Centre for Public Service Partnerships and programme lead for the Worcestershire Total Place pilot, said the concordat appeared to be “in the spirit of Total Place”.

“I genuinely believe ministers want to have a dialogue with localities but we need to persuade central government that if they are going to give us more authority, we can use the money more effectively,” he said.

“Concordats between localities and spending departments seem to be in the spirit of Total Place and others might follow [with similar agreements].”

The dedicated schools grant is the largest single-funding stream to English local government, and in 2009-10 totalled £29.9bn.

A DCFS spokeswoman declined to comment.

What is the DSG?

Dedicated schools grant (DSG), the largest single funding stream to English local government, is a ring-fenced fund that was introduced in 2006-07. In 2009-10, £29.9bn worth of DSG was handed out, representing 68% of the income received by local authorities, through specific grants from central government, according to official figures. The grant is paid to local authorities who distribute it using a locally agreed formula. Schools’ governing bodies and other providers then decide how to spend the available resources. Funding is based on a single guaranteed per-pupil unit of funding multiplied by the number of full-time equivalent pupils. DSG was introduced as part of a shake-up of schools funding alongside multi-year budgets.

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