PLANS to force pre-schools across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole to give up £200,000 to help fill a multi-million pound deficit in special needs funding have been scrapped.

The move, proposed as part of a range of measures aimed at plugging the £7 million funding shortfall next year, had been opposed by schools and councillors.

And at Wednesday’s BCP Council cabinet meeting, leader Vikki Slade said the authority had found a way “at the eleventh hour” to provide the money instead.

Each year the council is given a ringfenced “dedicated schools grant” from the government to fund pre-schools; mainstream schools; special needs provision; and other general funding.

But increasing numbers of youngsters with care plans and a shortage of expertise to support them at mainstream schools has put increasing strain on the budget.

Last year the deficit in the conurbation was less than £5 million but this year it has been forecast at £7 million.

The overall deficit facing the council “could be as high as £12.5 million” due to shortfalls it has inherited from Bournemouth and Dorset County councils and a further £1.9 million from this year.

The issue has been reported by councils across the country and Cllr Slade met with the region’s MPs in January to discuss it.

She said she would be writing to the Department for Education to request it provides more support.

Conservative group leader councillor Bob Lawton and deputy leader councillor Philip Broadhead have both said they will add their signatures to the letter.

Cabinet member for finance, councillor David Brown, said some councils were “ignoring” the issue and letting deficits grow but that BCP was taking the “responsible approach” by helping to reduce it.

Original budget proposals for the coming year proposed taking £200,000 and £4 million from pre-schools’ and mainstream schools’ share of the overall £275 million grant.

These transfers would have needed to be approved by the education secretary, Gavin Williamson.

But warnings had been made that, with increases to the minimum wage and pension contributions, the reduction in funding could force many pre-schools out of business.

Speaking at last month’s meeting of the conurbation’s schools’ forum, Sue Johnson, who manages Jack in the Box Nursery in Bournemouth said the move would be “the final nail in the coffin”.

Her concerns were echoed by councillors Steve Bartlett and Jackie Edwards at Monday’s meeting of the council’s scrutiny board.

But with less than a week until a final budget is agreed, Cllr Slade said the council had found a way to fund the £200,000 itself through delays to loan repayments.

“Since being made aware that there were issues with this £200,000 we have been using every moment of time, including late night discussions with [finance] officers to try and find a way to resolve it,” Cllr Slade said at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.

“At the eleventh hour we have managed to find a way to do that that does not have any impact on the sustainability of our budget.”

The final budget will be considered at Tuesday’s meeting of the full council.