Hartlepool Borough Council hits out at government after ‘tough decisions’ over £1m education budget deficit

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Councillors and education bosses have hit out at central government funding after they were forced to make ‘tough decisions’ to tackle £1million deficit in cash for pupils with special needs.

Hartlepool Borough Council children’s services committee had to make a decision in how to address a £1.030million deficit in its ‘high needs block’ school funding from the Government for 2019/20.

Councillor Brenda Harrison

Councillor Brenda Harrison

Councillors made the decision to transfer the money from the general ‘schools block’ funding allocated by the Government, which will mean funding for each school is reduced by 0.2%.

A request will have to be sent to the Secretary of State to approve transferring the money.

The area’s Schools Forum earlier this week voted not to transfer the money and report an unbalanced budget deficit of £1.030million for its funding for children with higher needs.

However council bosses said they ‘cannot feasibly agree’ to this option due its legal duties to maintain overall financial control and management.

The higher needs block funding had increased by £300,000 for 2019/20, but council bosses said the ‘overall need and complexity of demand is increasing at a higher rate’.

Councillors and education bosses hit out at the Government over the lack of school funding and urged organisations to work together for children in the area.

Committee chair Coun Brenda Harrison said: “This is an insidious position to put these children in and there is only one person or group to blame, the Government.

“This step has been brought about by funding cuts over a number of years by a government that does not have any idea of how education works in my mind.

“It is the most inept government in my lifetime.

“Hartlepool has always worked very closely with education staff and has a good working relationship which shouldn’t be fractured by something we cannot do anything about.

“It is with a heavy heart we do this and hopefully next year we will have a better picture.”

Mark Tilling, secondary school heads representative on the committee, said ‘enough is enough’ with cuts and schools will be struggling.

The High Tunstall College of Science headteacher said: “It needs to be recognised it’s more than just 0.2%.

“We recognise this is not a Hartlepool council issue, this is not schools vs Hartlepool Borough Council, all across the North East schools are seeing these issues.

“Where do we say enough is enough, we as members are saying enough is enough now.

“We cannot meet the needs of young people by taking cuts, cuts, cuts.

“We’re saying if we take this out of our budget we will be struggling.”

David Turner, primary school heads representative, said: “We talk about these increases and when you look back over the last four years, it’s really, really staggering.”

Coun Marjorie James also hit out at the Government and said she would ‘go on the train’ to London to discuss funding issues.

She said: “Ultimately this is our schools, our town, our children being short changed by the Conservative government.

“They’re just chipping away and chipping away until there is nothing left to chip at.

“It really is sticking a plaster over a broken leg.

“We have to make sure we are not separated and I 100% support the schools.”

Coun Shane Moore said: “This is one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to face.

“We really do want to send that message of support as an authority.”

Alan Chapman, special school heads representatives, said there is an increased amount of work being done with children with special educational needs.

He said: “There has been a seismic increase in the number of pupils with social, economic or mental health issues.

“We’re trying and we are making headway.

“We have to work in partnership to maintain as many of our young people in the town as we can.”

Last year the council again submitted a request to the Secretary of State to transfer funding which was approved, although that was for just £550,000.

Mark Patton, assistant director for education on the council, said: “We will cope as we always have because we are Hartlepool, but we shouldn’t have to.

“We are stretching a thin piece of elastic and if we stretch it anymore it’s going to be snapped.

“We need more spaces and more bodies but the only way to get more staff is bigger base budgets.”

Nic Marko, Local Democracy Reporting Service