Increase in school transport costs for Hartlepool children with special needs is behind overspending, say council chiefs

High demand for transport for school children with special needs in Hartlepool is leaving a hole in council coffers, town leaders have said.

Tuesday, 24th September 2019, 6:00 am

Finance chiefs at Hartlepool Borough Council raised the issue as they updated the authority’s Neighbourhood Services Committee on its financial position for 2019/20.

The members heard there was a forecast £125,000 overspend within the areas the committee is responsible for, adding it was mainly down to the demands of the number of children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND).

Chris Parkin, head of finance for regeneration and neighbourhoods, said: “The specific areas that this committee is responsible for, there is an adverse variance of £125,000.

“This is predominantly as a result of shortfall in income and changes to demand in relation to SEND home-to-school transport provision.”

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The £125,000 overspend is the situation also faced by the council Regeneration Services Committee, although that was predominantly put down to a forecast shortfall in income from the Town Hall Theatre and Borough Hall.

In total the council as a whole is currently anticipating an overspend of £850,000 for 2019/20 which is mainly ‘owing to an increase in looked after children numbers and costs’.

Mr Parkin added a report is to go before Hartlepool Borough Council Finance and Policy Committee on Monday, September 30, to address how the funding pressures will be resolved.

Council bosses have said the strategy will avoid a call on the unearmarked general fund reserve and will also avoid in-year budget cuts for 2019/20.

A report from finance chiefs noted the council faced similar issues in each of the last three years, reflecting growing pressures in Children’s Services which affect the majority of councils.

However, it warned funding pressures are only set to increase on the council in years to come.

It said: “The financial outlook for the next two years is the most uncertain position the council has ever faced with forecast deficits in 2020/21 and 2021/22 of between £5.7million and £7.4million.

“This means further extremely difficult decisions will be required over the next few years to set balanced budgets.

“Detailed proposals for addressing the forecast deficits are being developed and will be reported to a future Finance and Policy Committee.”