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Consultancy Firms Behind Bristol Send Cuts

Two consultancy firms are behind cuts to top up funding in Bristol

Two external consultancy firms have been brought in by Bristol City Council, to make changes to top up funding or cut top up funding entirely. This is due to escalating costs on the High Needs Block.

As part of Delivering Better Value in Send, Social Finance and PPL are working with Bristol City Council. They are aiming to bring down the amount spent on funding for pupils without an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP).

A video by Social Finance, PPL and Bristol City Council says “The High Needs Budget has risen by 45 per cent since 2019 – 2020. However, expenditure has outpaced budget, rising by 58 per cent. This has resulted in a deficit of 15.2 million in 2023 alone.”

The video – presented by an Associate Director at Social Finance – continues: “The council, education settings and other local partners need to change the way that High Needs funding is allocated to and used by schools to enable greater sustainability.”

Social Finance calls itself a consultancy organisation which is ‘united in our passion for making the world a fairer place.’ They will be doing this by working with PPL – a business consultancy – by working on what is considered within the Send community to be cutbacks.

In consultation documents, the council says: ‘The survey is not about how much the budget for children and young people with SEND should be. It’s about how we spend that budget. It is also about trying to ensure that the money spent on supporting children and young people with SEND is contained within the budget that has been allocated to them.

Bristol City Council Cabinet lead Asher Craig made her intentions to bring down the spend on top up funding and where it should be allocated very clear throughout 2023.

Online documents say the consultation was based on ‘extensive’ research and engagement to find out what the current situation is. They held 54 interviews with council officers working in SEND, top-up, finance, post-16, school improvements teams, education, social care and health professionals. Head teachers and SendCos representing different phases as well academies, mainstream and specialist settings.

Other local authorities also took part as well as consultants, and representatives from voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations.

One key issue uncovered was a lack of staff capacity dealing with school top up applications. A lack of staffing was also an issue for post- 16 top up applications, with ‘insufficient council capacity’ causing ‘significant pressure’.

Top up funding could find itself repurposed under ‘tight controls’ in a ‘finite budget’ or removed entirely.

The consultation says the ‘anticipated impact’ of this would mean there would be a ‘short-term’ benefit. But, that this would likely rise in future years because children would need supporting with EHCPs.

The Bristol Universal Descriptors (BUDs) are also up for consultation. These are used to determine what level of top up funding schools would receive. The council says they are now ‘outdated’.

For more information about the consultation: https://www.ask.bristol.gov.uk/send-top-up?fbclid=IwAR2MEL6Smlx2rAx3d3z7_CtYHKypFdW0Up0z5QGzunBmZpmgAhbCQtkeGco

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