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County faces judicial review of special education needs savings

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Families have been granted a judicial review of Surrey CC’s plan to cut funding for supporting children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) by £21m this financial year.

Surrey is planning to make just over £40m savings in SEND spending across 2018-19 and 2019-20, despite experiencing a 44% rise in children requiring support since 2010. There has been an increase in demand of 19% and 13% in the last two years, pushing the total number requiring support to 7,700.

Surrey’s overall budget for children, schools and families has risen by £25.4m this year to £480.1m but the county is set to make savings in SEND support services such as home to school transport, inclusion in mainstream schools and “productivity efficiencies”. Budget papers also show that of the £21m planned savings this year, £10.7m of that is “yet to be determined”.

The High Court last week granted a judicial review of the Surrey’s plans following a challenge by law firm Irwin Mitchell, acting on behalf of five children. The firm claims Surrey has “misunderstood its legal obligations and failed to lawfully consult with some of the most vulnerable members of society who will be adversely affected by these proposals”. It called on the council to reconsider the savings and “enter into constructive dialogue” with those families affected.

In response, a Surrey spokesperson said: “We are currently considering our response, but as ever our main focus is making sure children get the support they need.”

The date of the two-day judicial review has not yet been confirmed.

County leaders last week called for an urgent meeting with the education secretary over “unsustainable” rising demand for services supporting SEND children.

Research by the County Councils Network has found 21 county councils overspent on their dedicated ‘high needs block’ grant over the past two years, with 22 counties projecting a further total overspend of 5.1% in 2018-19, taking the total to £175m since 2016. Surrey was said to have a projected high needs block overspend of at least £15m between 2016-19.

In 2016, a joint inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission found parents and carers of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in Surrey “overwhelmingly” lack confidence in the county council due to difficulties in securing appropriate assessments.

Last week it was also announced a government commissioner has been appointed to oversee improvements in Surrey’s children’s services following a damning Ofsted report, which founnd senior management and elected members failed to “accept and act” on serious failings.

Meanwhile, Surrey’s revenue budget for 2018-19 states that the council is planning to use £24m of reserves this year, which will reduce the overall level of reserves to £42m. This is described as the “minimum safe level”, reflecting “the ongoing high level of uncertainty and risk the council faces”.

The report also says Surrey acheived £74m of an original target £104m savings in 2017-18.


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