Jenny introduced the annual report which presents the 2021/2022 Schools Budget outturn position and confirms the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) Reserve.
Jenny referred to paragraph 4 which sets out the whole performance of the Children and Family Services Department. Jenny referred to the schools block, early years block and high needs block as there were significant variances. Jenny stated that the schools block referred to school growth funding in 2021/22 that would be required in future years; the early years position was created by two issues which were partly additional payments during Covid-19 and a further issue regarding a census return to the DfE for which discussions were still taking place but no agreement had been reached. Jenny said that the High Needs overspend was nearly £11.4m against an anticipated overspend of £5.6m which was largely due to an increased volume of children with EHCPs and a presentation would be given on the next item sharing the next steps in the local authority to address the issues that are driving that position.
Jenny reported that there were just over 80 maintained schools; their balances showed an increase but until the Consistent Financial Reporting returns from schools were received the balances cannot be split between capital and revenue. As previously discussed schools balances/reserves were a position at any point in time and does not take into account plans schools may have to use this money in future financial years. The local authority does not hold reserves information for academies and MAT’s, neither is that easily available.
In terms of the Dedicated Schools Grant Reserve there was a deficit of £24.3M which was the position the DfE would see in the statement of accounts. Jenny added that this alarming position would potentially increase the DfE’s interest in Leicestershire on the DSG deficit and they had been in contact with Leicestershire to talk about their new programme called Delivering Better Value in SEND but it was unclear what that meant in terms of any support the DfE may give to Leicestershire in order to manage the position or whether this would trigger additional funding. Jenny said that the potential programme to support the local authority through the Developing Better Value was being discussed with the DfE.
Graham Bett asked where the funding was coming from in terms of the £2.288m for the schools block for new schools. Jenny explained that this was revenue funding through the DSG and added that within the schools block there are two separate elements; one is the funding that was delegated out to maintained schools and academies for their budget and the other is the revenue coming into the local authority to fund new school growth. Jenny said that when a new school is opened the local authority had the same funding lag as schools have in terms of changing numbers. Jenny stated that housing developments are rapidly happening and Leicestershire is opening new schools almost annually and this money funds their budget from September to April and also their pre-opening costs.
Jane Lennie asked if the DFE funded new schools and expansions and out of County Council funding. Jenny said that the funding comes through the dedicated schools grant that is given to the local authority which is DfE funded. Jane asked about comparisons to other local authorities in terms of high needs. Jenny commented that it was difficult to know because there was no national data readily available to show the position within other local authorities. Jane Lennie asked if local authorities all publish the same budget information. Jenny stated that they do within each individual local authority’s statement of accounts but are not published until July. Jane Lennie stated that if last year’s information was available then this issue would affect every local authority. Jenny commented that this was an issue affecting every local authority in some way and that the £24m needed to be covered by the County Council cash in the meantime as it was a deficit. Jenny added that whilst the position was not readily available there are 14 local authorities subject to Safety Valve Agreements with the DfE and those authorities have larger deficits than Leicestershire.
Karen Allen referred to the table on page 12 of the report and asked if the underspend and money brought forward on the schools block was ringfenced for new schools coming through as the need becomes greater and not the high needs block. Jenny stated that the cash was set aside for that but was offsetting the high needs deficit but if the underspend was not there the DSG deficit would be £36m.
Schools Forum noted the content of the report.