THERE was unanimous councillor support for a petition and motion against the government’s controversial Safety Valve scheme.

The petition and motion were heard at the meeting of full council on Tuesday, February 20.

Both saw cross-party support, and the motion was passed with a consensus.

This means the council will debate any contract or arrangement under Safety Valve.

Read more on the Safety Valve programme:

The council leader and/or chief executive will write to ministers for an urgent extension to the statutory override on education budgets, calling for urgent additional funding or a deficit write off and to the Local Government Association for authorities to demand the government supports them through this crisis.

Three public questions on Safety Valve were heard at the meeting.

First, Adam Sofianos, the petitioner, asked for clarification that the 15-year plan submitted to the Department for Education (DfE) would not cover the historic £63m deficit.

This was confirmed by Cllr Richard Burton, portfolio holder for children and young people, who said ‘further conversations’ would need to be had with government on how this deficit is funded.

Next, Rachel Filmer, from Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Alliance for Children and Schools, asked if the council would commit to any plan that would result in a reduction in services.

She highlighted that council services are ‘already not good enough’, with the plan mentioning the risk of more tribunals and judicial reviews.

Cllr Burton said the plan was based on statutory duties being met.

“The plan takes an estimated 15-years to achieve, for balance, because there are no plans to change the commitments already made,” he said.

Concern was raised surrounding the proposed 50 per cent reduction in education, health and care plans (EHCPs) for the first year of the 15-year plan.

In response to a question from Sarah Cooper, Cllr Burton said that at this stage, 60 plans are being issued a month to clear historic backlogs, but that it is expected that the underlying number of plans per month will be 30, once the backlog is cleared.

Cllr Burton added: “You are quite right to be concerned about the impact that Safety Valve plan might have on the SEND improvement journey.

“This is a primary reason why BCP has entered a 15-year plan rather than a 4- or a 7-year plan entered by other authorities.”

Through the meeting, councillors and members of the public highlighted the historic underfunding of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision by the government.

In presenting his petition, Mr Sofianos said there is an English council deficit of almost £3billion on SEND services.

He said that Safety Valve had been presented instead of solutions, and it involves limits in special school services and cuts in 16-plus services, based on targets and not on need.

Mr Sofianos said: “This isn’t about local politics, it’s about a national policy which doesn’t work, and a plan which will make things worse.

“So, councillors, stand with us tonight, it’s time to fix a broken system and it starts here.”

In response to questions from councillors, Mr Sofianos said that schools were unhappy with the plans, while saying that other authorities have struggled on the scheme – including Dorset Council which is applying to extend its contract as it is missing its targets.

Presenting his motion to council, Cllr Patrick Canavan said he had intended to file a motion to reject Safety Valve, but that this had been ‘prevented internally’.

He said: “The solution does lie elsewhere. SEND services have been underfunded for years and we need a better outcome that supports vulnerable children and struggling families across the BCP, of which there are very many.”

Councillors then debated the motion, with it receiving support from across all the parties, including Conservative group leader Cllr Phil Broadhead and Cllr David Martin, who sits on the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Cllr Burton said he would be happy to add his name to the letters proposed in the motion, as portfolio holder.

He suggested that the best time for a debate on the plans proposed would either be the next full council meeting, or at an extraordinary meeting if the DfE response comes through sooner.

Cllr Joe Salmon said ‘far too much time’ had been spent on the Safety Valve plan which was ‘never going to work’, calling for ‘genuine solutions’ and ‘radical change’.

Cllr Olivia Brown said she has worked in teaching for 16 years and said that it is a ‘profession in crisis’.

She wrote to the local MPs with Cllr Emily Harman over their concerns with the scheme.

Cllr Harman said: “I am sorry to say that we have been sorely disappointed in the lack of urgency and the lack of empathy in the few replies that we have received.”

She added that ‘full transparency and member participation is crucial’, while saying the council can ‘show leadership that MPs have so far have failed to’.