Councillor 'gutted' over colleague's high needs education vote

A North Yorkshire County Councillor has criticised one of his colleagues for "ditching" a vote on contentious cuts to the authority's special education budget.

Friday, 22nd February 2019, 1:25 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd February 2019, 1:27 pm
North Yorkshire County Councillor Geoff Webber.

Liberal Democrat Geoff Webber moved an amendment at Wednesday's meeting to delay a 50 per cent funding cut to the county's discretionary high needs budget - worth £1.3m - by one year.

While the amendment was crushed and the original motion passed by the Conservative-majority council, Coun Webber (Harrogate Bilton and Nidd Gorge division) said he was "gutted" that Tory counterpart Coun Paul Haslam hadn't supported it.

"Right from the beginning he'd been very supportive of the campaign to save the Pupil Referral Service," Coun Webber said after the meeting.

"I fully expected him to support the amendment and help save Grove, then he turns around and ditches it.

"I was gutted."

Coun Haslam, who represents the same council division as Coun Webber, said he had spent "a lot of time exploring various options" before coming to the view that the proposed policy was the best one.

"I certainly felt reassured that the budget was made so that children would be fully looked after and cared for," he said.

"If I wasn't comfortable with it, I wouldn't have voted for it."

He also said work by Conservative councillors had been "instrumental" in having the original proposal amended so that the discretionary funding cuts were staggered over another year.

"I actually did a lot of work behind the scenes and I believe I have been instrumental along with other Conservative councillors to move for the extension of time," Coun Haslam said.

He added that his fellow councillors who voted for the policy "truly believed" it was the best way to limit exclusion and "improve the life chances of children".

"The opposition do not have a monopoly on compassion," he said.

"Children are massively more important than politics."

He added that he was confident that there was "sufficient safeguards and monitors" in place for the budget to be implemented this April.

Coun Webber said his amendment was aimed to give the schools time to adjust to the drastically different budget in six weeks.

"We have encouraged them to get to that standard and then to just cut them off in two months' time, it's just disgraceful," he said.

The changes to the High Needs Budget are centred around a three-pronged approach by NYCC to claw back a £5.5m overspend due to Government underfunding.This includes the cutting of £2.7m of ‘discretionary’ funding of the High Needs budget.

A portion of that money saved - £771,000 - will be reallocated into a new scheme which will focus on preventing permanent exclusions from mainstream schools in the first place.

The council says it will continue to pay its statutory funding at the ‘slightly reduced rate’ of £18,000 per pupil, which it says will bring North Yorkshire’s PRS funding in line with the national average.