BCP Council could enter into a Government agreement to secure additional funding to tackle the financial deficit linked to support given to children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

Joining the ‘safety valve’ programme would come with agreeing to specific targets and reforms.

Current forecasts expect the local authority to have an accumulated deficit in its high needs dedicated schools grant (DSG) of £62.9million, with it currently standing at £35.8m.

A recent report by chief finance officer Adam Richens said this level of growing deficit is “not sustainable”.

By March 31 next year, the council was predicting to have negative reserves due to the (DSG) position.

A Government statutory override is currently in place which allows the deficit to be ignored until the end of the 2025/26 financial year. This means processes normally involved when such a situation arises can be ignored for now.

At the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, July 26, Cllr Andy Martin, portfolio holder for customer, communications and culture, labelled the accumulation as “alarming”.

Bournemouth Echo: Cllr Andy MartinCllr Andy Martin (Image: BCP Council)

He asked if there was an update on the situation and whether it was something councillors needed to “really worry about” or if the government was “going to take care of it”.

BCP Council chief executive Graham Farrant said the local authority received a letter with an invitation to join the ‘safety valve’ programme.

The local authority was one of the first 55 to be part of the Department for Education’s (DfE) ‘delivering better value’ programme. The ‘safety valve’ programme is a level above this.

Mr Farrant said discussions were under way to look at the pros and cons of taking up the offer.

He told cabinet: “There is recognition in central government, particularly in DfE, of the scale of the challenge that we are facing.

Bournemouth Echo: Graham FarrantGraham Farrant (Image: Richard Crease)

“Clearly it is of a more significant scale than it was last year and the year before, but we need consider that and then we will bring something to the cabinet for the next meeting.”

The Government says the agreements, of which there are currently 34 across the country, set out the high needs reforms and saving targets that councils must follow to eliminate their historic deficits and function sustainably in the future. The agreements come with additional funding to achieve this.

Dorset Council entered into a ‘safety valve’ agreement with DfE in March last year.

The financial challenges linked to the high needs block come at a time when BCP Council continues to try to address issues that led to Ofsted rating children’s services as inadequate.