GOVERNMENT money received by BCP Council as part of the Safety Valve programme would not be enough to cover the authority’s current £63m education deficit.

A meeting of the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee heard that the council would be reliant on the government to pay off an anticipated £200m deficit in 15 years’ time.

This would follow a 15-year Safety Valve plan to cut deficits that has been presented to the Department for Education (DfE).

As reported, the council was invited to join the scheme in July, which aims to cut deficits through sweeping reforms and cost cutting measures.

Read more on the Safety Valve programme:

It has been met by criticism from parents, schools and teachers, culminating in a petition signed by more than 2,200 people and a protest.

Bournemouth Echo: BCP Council chief executive Graham Farrant

Council chief executive, Graham Farrant, told the committee on the proposal: “We’ve just said to government this is a plan that would work, takes 15 years, meets our statutory requirements, meets the service requirements and would balance the budget.

“In 15 years’ time, the budget would balance, in the meantime we’ll continue to build up a deficit which by that time is over £200m.

“We have to persuade the Department for Education to pay for that, because the council does not have £200m set aside.”

In response to a question from Cllr David Martin, the committee heard that the Safety Valve plan would balance the ‘in-year position’ across the 15 years but would not ‘tackle the deficit currently projected for the end of this financial year’.

Setting out the context behind the proposal and the deficit, Mr Farrant said the DfE has ‘defined a service which we have to provide statutorily, which we don’t have the budget for’.

“They’ve given us a budget, but the budget is too small for the scale of the service, which is partly because the demand is rising, it’s partly because the costs are rising,” he said.

“At the moment, we are spending as a council something like £20m a year more than we have in the budget for providing this service.”

Bournemouth Echo: The protestors gathered outside the BCP Council annex ahead of a meeting of the Children’s

He said the authority was reliant at this stage on a ‘government set aside’, or override, as reported.

But, by the time that set aside ends, on March 31, 2026, the council anticipates its education deficit to be ‘in the order of £100m’, the chief executive said.

To tackle this funding gap, the council has been assessing options under the Safety Valve programme.

It is set to get feedback from the DfE on their 15-year plan to do this at the end of February.

“We have said we are not going to make a proposal for something that we do not believe that we can deliver,” Mr Farrant said.

“That means we will not support a proposal that takes the service below the statutory requirements, and we will not sign up to a service that we don’t believe is deliverable.

“Therefore, the only solution we’ve been able to come up with is a 15-year plan, which requires two big slugs of capital investment from government to make new provision, to reduce not necessarily the numbers or the type of the delivery, but the cost of the delivery.

“The informal feedback we’ve had, from DfE’s technical and expert advisors is ‘that seems reasonable, we don’t think there’s a better way of doing it’.”

Mr Farrant said that should the government refuse its 15-year plan, that the council would be in ‘no worse position’ than it is today.

“At the moment there is the statutory set aside. The big challenge is, can government afford to not extend that because of the number of councils in financial problems,” he said.

“We’ve had reassurances from civil servants that government is fully aware of the implications of that date.

“We are in no worse position than we are today if they say no because today we are reliant on the statutory set aside.

“That’s the reality of our financial position.”