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Suffolk County Council faces recovery plan for anticipated £6.7m school budget overspend

PUBLISHED: 05:30 11 September 2019

Suffolk County Council cabinet member for finances, Richard Smith. Picture; SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Suffolk County Council cabinet member for finances, Richard Smith. Picture; SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

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A cash-strapped Suffolk council which has already been forced to make severe cutbacks is facing a seven figure black hole in its school spending, it has emerged.

Cllr Jack Abbott said the council should have acted quicker. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCllr Jack Abbott said the council should have acted quicker. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk County Council has published its finance figures for the first three months of the 2019/20 year, which revealed the council was on course to spend £6.7million over its budget for schools by March 2020.

The cash is in a ring-fenced pot called the Dedicated Schools Grant provided by the Department for Education to fund school expenditure, with the overspend understood to be largely as a result of demand for special educational needs.

It means the council will have to provide a recovery plan for the DfE as to how it will pay back the cash once it goes above a £5m deficit.

Conservative cabinet member for finance and assets Richard Smith said: "The expenditure in this area has been a problem for this council for a number of years and it continues to be so.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Penny Otton questioned how the overspend could be financed. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLiberal Democrat Cllr Penny Otton questioned how the overspend could be financed. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"It can only be addressed properly by national government giving local government more money.

"I don't make any apologies for that because we are not alone.

"While demand increases in special educational needs I am afraid we will find ourselves in the position we do now."

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Mr Smith welcomed the government's announcement of a £700m pot nationally, but only equated to an extra £5.8m for Suffolk next year which he said was not enough.

According to the council, it will not be expected to meet the overspend from its general reserves, which already took a £4.4m hit last year, but would be addressed in the recovery plan with the DfE.

But Labour education councillor Jack Abbott questioned where else it would come from if not more cuts.

"I do have some sympathy for the cabinet," he said. "Funding for special educational needs has been woefully inadequate for some time now.

"While I would praise the cross party policy development panel which put forward an excellent proposal for 800 new places, which will drive down costs, this is something that should have happened years ago.

"We knew demand was going up for special educational needs and did not act fast enough."

Councillor Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, added: "Suffolk schools have been historically underfunded by this government, so it is no surprise that we are facing a huge overspend on the Dedicated Schools Grant.

"Beyond asking, once again, for proper funding from the government, it really isn't clear how Suffolk County Council can come up with a recovery plan.

"The simple fact is we haven't been properly or fairly funded for years.

"It would be desperately unfair and problematic to try and resolve the situation by looking to reduce the funding provided to schools through the Dedicated Schools Grant."

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