Cornwall must have better funding for schools.

In December and January, I made comment about the potential good news for Cornwall to get an overall increase of funding for schools. I did clarify the devil is always in the detail, and there would be no-doubt be winners and losers. There is no getting away from it, but historically, Cornwall has been one of the worse funded areas for education. Not just this current Government, but previous Governments too.

Whilst I welcome the additional £10m to Cornwall under the current proposals, this change does not address the historic differences between richest and poorest authorities. This is in part because one of the proposals in the new funding formula is to ensure no school nationally will face a per pupil funding drop of more than 3% – the same goes for Cornwall schools if there is any reduction in an individual school budget.

The best-funded authorities get around £9.5k per pupil even with a full 3% reduction they will still receive much more than the poorest authorities whose starting point is about £4.5k per pupil. Yes the gap, is slightly narrower, it is light-years away from being closed.

The Council, with the Schools’ Forum (who manage the Dedicated Schools Grant; the forum is populated by head-teachers from all sectors of education) have robustly commented on the Stage 1 Consultation by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and highlighted a number of issues with the proposals. The first issue is the EFA have not sufficiently clearly demonstrated the true impact on their proposed funding formula. Too many figures are being used without clearly identifying the elements included for comparison, potentially resulting in misleading comparisons being made.

Furthermore, against the Council’s and Schools Forum’s advice in response to part one of the consultations, the EFA are basing calculations to fund the children with greatest needs on Free School Meals take-up rather than on more sophisticated and more reliable deprivation measures. The EFA are also proposing to reduce the amounts allocated by IDACI bands (income deprivation affecting children index) so additional funding will be skewed in favour of the free school meal take-up. It is very important to note this is take-up of and not eligibility for.

The proposed funding model focuses very heavily on pupil led funding. The problem with this is that Secondary Schools currently still have to deal with reductions in school population. The protection mechanisms in the formula only protects the funding allocated to each child rather than the total amount of funding received by a school, so reducing pupil numbers results in reduced budgets.  This fall in pupil population is set to be reversed in the next few years. So in effect, schools will receive more, but does not make it right due to the vast differences of AWPU between local authorities.

In a slightly ironic twist, small schools were very worried about their funding, but with the proposed lump sum allocations our very smallest schools will suddenly be considerably better off. Good news for small schools, not so good for larger.

The EFA consultation runs to the 22nd March. There is a stage two for this consultation and all concerns have been put into Cornwall Council official response to the second part of the consultation. This is currently in draft format and will be agreed with representatives of Cornwall Schools’ Forum before we submit it.

I have always been clear and fair that whilst I welcome the additional funding that will be allocated to Cornwall’s pupils, the review does not go far enough in redistributing resources to traditionally underfunded areas like Cornwall.  I will add that I see no justification for the vast differences in AWPU between local authorities. Our schools in Cornwall can only dream of having almost double the amount of funding like other local council have.  I just hope the EFA listens to the views of Schools’ Forum, the Council and head-teachers in making sure our schools are funded properly.

(this article is also featured in the West Briton etc).

We all want fairer funding in Cornwall’s Schools

I have been contacted by parents and teachers about information being put in the public domain about school funding in Cornwall. I, as has Cornwall Council, have long campaigned for fairer funding in schools in Cornwall. However, some of the information released by a Union is rather flawed. This has resulted in misinformation being shared.

I am also not often in agreement with the DfE on its funding formula but I share the concerns of the Department for Education over the accuracy of the figures produced by the unions’ calculator.

In the case of Cornwall the figures appear to be based on an assumption of 65,092 pupils in our schools. According to the Autumn census (the most recent figures available), there are currently 70,263 school aged pupils on role in schools in Cornwall (including those in sixth form but excluding those in nursery and colleges.

The level of inaccuracy in the pupil figures used by the unions means that the figures for any cuts in funding are also inaccurate.  We know that education in Cornwall has historically been underfunded by successive Governments but using inaccurate figures in this way does little to support the unions’ case for additional funding and creates concern among schools, teachers, parents and pupils.

The Council has robustly responded to the consultation on the proposed new national funding formula and remain hopeful that, if introduced by the Government, it could mean millions of pounds of extra funding for schools in Cornwall. However, as we said previously, we need to look closely at the detail to see how the formula could impact on individual schools in Cornwall.  The difference in funding allocation will affect schools in different ways, and not all schools will see an increase in their funding.

I am not disagreeing with the sentiment of Cornwall being underfunded and how that must change. However, if you are going to raise the issue, you have to get your data facts right. Therefore, Cornwall Council felt it necessary to issue statement to clarify the situation and in turn stop unnecessary angst with teacher and parents.

 

 

Could Cornwall be set to potentially receive an extra £10m for school funding?

Since I became Portfolio Holder for Children’s Service, I have argued for the Government to address the serious level of under-funding Cornwall’s schools have received. To be fair, education in Cornwall has historically been underfunded by successive Governments. Over the last couple of year’s there has been a slight increase which has helped, but it still has not gone far enough as Cornwall is still one of the worst funded authorities.

If these proposals announced today are implemented following consultation, the new National Funding Formula could see an additional £10 million allocated to Cornwall for school and high needs pupils. However, while this funding has the potential to make a real difference, we need to look closely at the detail to see how the formula could impact on individual schools. Furthermore, the difference in funding allocation will affect schools in different ways, and not all schools will see an increase in their funding. As the old saying goes – the devil is in the detail.

It is also very important to remember that this is only a consultation at this time and things could change – like they often do.  However, anticipating that Cornwall will receive additional education funding,  we would urge the Secretary of State to consider a swift transition to this new formula of no more than three years.

I welcome these proposals in principle and thank the Department for Education for recognising Cornwall’s historic under-funding and taking appropriate steps to address it. I must also say thanks to say thank-you to everyone who has campaigned so hard over the past few years for a fairer, more equitable distribution of funds to pupils.

 

 

 

Government’s plans for Early Years funding is bad news for Cornwall

Here we go again, on one hand the Government says it wants to increase free childcare hours from 15 to 30, but the reality of this is their current plan puts Cornwall’s Early Years provision in a worse position than it is because of the Government’s new funding formula plans for this sector.abc

The Government is introducing a new national formula for funding its 30 year childcare offer and is due to formally confirm the proposed funding rate for Cornwall at the end of December.  While both the Council and providers support the principle of a national formula, the suggested rates for Cornwall would see a 1% increase in funding per child – an additional 4 pence per hour – significantly below the national average increase of 5.7% – and making Cornwall the third worst funded local authority in the country!

Cornwall is one of the worst funded authorities for Early Years, Higher and Basic Needs. So when there is a funding review, being near the bottom of the pile you think it will improve. Yet for Cornwall the review which the Government is currently undertaking has the potential to put us in a worse position, yes worse….

This is very, very bad news for parents, children and early years’ providers in Cornwall. As one of the Early Innovator councils chosen to help pilot the new 30 hour childcare offer, we have been working closely with providers from across the private, voluntary, independent and maintained sectors over the past 12 months to draw up plans for the introduction of the new provision in September 2017.

The Government has to rethink its plans on the Government to significantly increase the rate of funding it is proposing to allocate to Cornwall to provide additional childcare hours to prevent the risk of large numbers of early years providers going out of business.

In Cornwall we have a committed, high performing early years’ sector in Cornwall, with around 92% of our settings rated as “Good” or “Outstanding” by Ofsted.  There are around 11,000 three and four-year olds in Cornwall and we know from talking to parents that almost three-quarters of those currently using childcare would like the additional 15 hours.  More than half of parents also say that the new provision will allow them to increase the hours they work or to change their jobs which will help to drive our economy.

However, the very clear message from providers is that the rates being proposed for Cornwall by the Government are so low they will not meet minimum staff costs.  Many are saying that not only does this mean they will be unable to provide the additional 15 hours offer, they would not be sustainable at all and would close.

The Council already allocates over 99% of the funding it receives to providers and so there is no additional funding which can be used to meet any shortfall in funding from the Government. It will have to come from within existing budgets, which in turn could lead to further service cuts.

Currently, the Government gives Cornwall’s providers £3.86 per hour per child, but the true cost in reality is around is at least £5 and that is the minimum estimated amount to cover costs. Providers in trying to balance the books, charge extra per hour for the additional 15 hours, but this will go when the additional 15 hours is introduced. I also fail to understand the headline national figure under the funding formula review is £4.88, yet Cornwall gets over a pound less.

Many early years providers in Cornwall have already been struggling to meet their costs, and in January the Council introduced an 18 pence per hour increase in the money we pay as a short-term emergency measure because of the lack of government funding. This was only intended as a stop-gap measure pending the outcome of the consultation, however, and there is no money to continue with the payment after March.

As I said the 18p is a temporary measure and will go from March 2017, which in turn means with the poultry 4p increase suggested by the Government, will actually see less money for providers. If the Government does not increase the rate currently proposed for Cornwall, over 90% of our 500 early years providers will see cuts in their funding of between £1,640 to £5,594 a year.

Cornwall’s nursery schools, which are used as centres of excellence and training, seeing an average grant reduction of £157,000 a year.  These cuts will have a serious impact on what has been a vibrant and hard-working sector in Cornwall and could see many settings close.

Unintended consequences of the minimum wage increases this year by approximately 7.5% an hour, yet, high quality nurseries remain sustainable with a  2.74% decrease in funding per child per hour.

The important thing to me, the Council and providers is that we want to build on the success of our early years programme, not see cuts in provision for children and parents in Cornwall.

Therefore I am calling on the Government to guarantee a minimum level of funding through the Area Cost Adjustment which reflects our specific needs. Government, you need to rethink your plans…..

In lobbying, we have written to the Minister and Cornwall’s six MPs. I wonder if that will do any good…

The Government’s Spending Review: Education

In the second blog post on the Government’s Spending Review, I thought I would cover the educational elements of the review. I do have to point out must of the detail has not been released, and will only know of the impact of the headlines when these details are made public in the next month or so.

The Department for Education (DfE) ‘central children’s services budget’ will be protected at over £300m per year ‘to help drive up social care workforce standards to improve support for vulnerable children’.

An increase of £1bn in funding per year by 2019-20 to support the extension of free childcare places for 2, 3 and 4 year-olds will be made available.

Free childcare for working parents of 3-4 year olds will be doubled from 15 to 30 hours per week from September 2017. This is restricted to families with an upper income limit of £100,000 and a minimum weekly income level per parent equivalent to 16 hours.

As for capital funding for new school places in primary and secondary schools, the Government has said in the Spending Review, £23bn will be made available over the period to support the creation of 600,000 school places, the opening of 500 new free schools, and the rebuilding and refurbishing over 500 schools. In Cornwall, we are providing new school places in our recently approved strategy, but this only takes up to the 2017/18 period. I really hope some of the £23bn will come to Cornwall.

Furthermore, capital funding of at least £50m will be made available to create additional places in nurseries.

In the Spending Review, it highlights its aim in addressing essential maintenance needs. This point is interesting, as to date, the Government has not addressed this area. for example Cornwall looking at least a £90m maintance backlog, but only having £5m/£6m to try to tackle the backlog.

Over £300m a year will be made available to increase the average hourly rate paid to childcare providers. Universal Infant School Meal funding is also set to stay.

The Government said they will protect the core schools budget in real terms enabling the per-pupil rate for the Dedicated Schools Grant to be protected in cash terms and the pupil premium will be maintained at current rates. Thought the latter does not take into consideration of inflation.

A worry is the announcement that the Education Services Grant will be reduced by around £600m, including phasing out the additional funding schools receive through the grant.

It is no surprise to see the Government re-affirm it aims of having no local authority schools and the removal – as yet unknown – statutory duties on local authorities in relation to schools. For the first-time there has been a clear message to Sixth Form Colleges who will be able to become academies, allowing them to recover their non-business VAT costs. No doubt in the first phase it will be to encourage, but in reality, they will have no choice but to convert.

The current national base rate per student for 16 to 19 year olds in school sixth forms, sixth form colleges and further education colleges will be protected in cash terms for the Spending Review period. Yet, this is after funding cuts in this sector have already been implemented, like for Sixth Forms where they saw a reduction in funding of £800 per pupil.

A new funding system for schools will be introduced from 2017-18. A detailed consultation on the specifics of the proposed new system will be published in early 2016. It is about time the Government addressed this, as I have highlighted on this blog before the huge differences in funding between local authorities.  This new national funding formula will include elements for schools, high needs and early years.

 

 

The Government’s Spending Review: the detail behind the spin for the social care precept and business rates

On Wednesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave the Government’s Spend Review for the next four years (2016-17 to 2019-20 ). It had four objectives: to develop an integrated health and care system, spread economic growth through a devolution revolution, address social failures in order to extend opportunity, and protect national security.

There were many parts to the review and not all apparent in the headlines and spin. Those in Local Government circles were very worried that the axe would again fall on them. The last few years have been brutal for this sector, with services reducing or stopping all together due to the cuts in funding. So there was a lot of nervousness on the impact of the review for services Cornwall Council provides. In this blog post, I will cover the social care precept, funding and business rates.

The Chancellor said there would be a new Social Care ‘precept’ which allows Councils responsible for Adult Social Care to increase Council Tax by a further 2% above the current (2%) referendum threshold. If this was implemented for Cornwall this would generate additional revenue of around £4.7m per annum and would add £25.88 per year to the Band D charge (on top of the already proposed £25.49 increase at 1.97%).

My issue with this new precept is social care is not only about adults! Social care also includes lots of children related services. So why didn’t the Chancellor just say social care, and then allows Council’s to decide how to spend this money. I can tell you children’s services are under huge pressure with reduced budget and increased demand. Furthermore, if you do not address issues early on in a childs live, the reality is it will cost you far far more as they get older.

The skeptic in me things the Government has again thrown a hospital pass to local authorities by giving this new precept powers, whilst at the same time reduce grant funding to local authorities. So when a service is at breaking point, the Government can say ‘but we gave local authorities the powers to fund these services’ but knowing really they cut the original funding. Sneaky ‘persons of disputed parenthood.’

Which brings me on to local government spending. The Chancellor confirmed that the Revenue Support Grant (RSG) will be phased out entirely by 2019-20. There will  be a consultation ‘shortly’ on changes to the local government finance system to ‘rebalance support including to those authorities with social care responsibilities’. Currently, the Council receives £174.25m as part of its RSG

This consultation will ‘pave the way’ for the implementation of 100% business rate retention’ and will assess the main income streams available to local government, including council tax and business rates. In addition it will consider the necessary responsibility transfers to maintain fiscal neutrality. In more simpler words, we in local government are going to get less.

Cornwall Council receives as part of its current budget £82.3m in business rate receipts. So if the government wants to local authorities to have fiscal neutrality with the removal of the RSG and Cornwall Council keeping 100% of the business rates, we need to make sure the actual amounts add up because I cannot see where the £88,55m is going to come from if Cornwall Council is going to remain at the same levels of funding.

Local authorities can also lower business rates, but they cannot raise them over a certain threshold unless there is a directly elected mayor. I believe this to be 2%.

I also have to laugh at the comment in the spending review on Councils will be ‘encouraged’ to draw on their reserves to manage change. How that will be put in place is uncertain. But reserves are already being used, and if you spend all your reserves, you have nothing left if something goes wrong.

So far, I cannot see many positives for Cornwall Council in this spending review. Post to come will be on the other aspects of the Spending Review.

Cornwall is set to get more money for schools

In a bit of good news, Cornwall, along with some other local authorities, is set to receive a boost in pupil funding. This follows on from a uplift of funding to the tune of £4.9m in the 2015/2016 financial year. This uplift was due to a funding rate harmonisation that is part of the national fair funding formula process.

This funding was initially on a one year only basis, but with a ‘commitment’ from the then government to fund this permanently by adding it into the baseline funding for the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG).

I am very pleased to say this additional funding has now been confirmed so the additional £4.9 million is here to stay and will be incorporated into Cornwall’s grant funding for 2016/2017 and beyond.

A positive bit of news, but Cornwall still remains one of the worse funding areas for schools.

Local Government Settlement and how it impacts on Cornwall

The first blog of the year starts off with news from last year and the announcement made on the 18th of December, when the Government released details of the draft figures of the Local Government Settlement for 2015/16. In other words, the amount of funding the Government will give to Local Authorities. Note this is a draft statement and the final settlement will not be finalised till February 2015. So lets not count our chickens just yet.

In the Autumn Statement, the Government has committed to continue with a 2% cap on Business Rate increases for 2015/16. Under normal circumstances Business Rates would be increased by inflation – circa 2.3% – and this cap, all things being equal, would consequently reduce the amount of funding received by the Council through Business Rate Retention. The Government has promised to fund any losses as a result of this cap through additional grant. Lets hope te Government keeps this promise.

The statement reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the doubling of the Small Business Rate Relief by extending the scheme for a further year until 31 March 2016. In addition, it also announced that the discount that was introduced in 2014/15 for small retail premises would be increased to £1,500 in 2015/16 (previously £1,000). The Government has again indicated that it will fund the cost of these proposals through grant, as in 2014/15.

Every year there is the worry the Government would reduce the cap on Council Tax increases – currently set at 2% without the need for a referendum. The good news is there will be no decrease – or increase – on the cap. However, the announcement also made reference to significant precept increases in recent years by Town and Parish Councils. Luckily the Government stopped short of introducing the referendum principles to this tier of local government at this time. I do fear it will not be long until such caps are imposed on Town and Parish Councils.

The Government in the statement has also offered Local authorities a Council Tax freeze funding for 2014/15 and 2015/16 equivalent to a 1% increase on Council Tax and that this would be made permanent and incorporated into the baseline expenditure totals.

The existing Rural Services Delivery funding that is paid to the most rural authorities is being increased by £4m nationally and rolled into the settlement. For Cornwall, our total rural funding is now £0.755m. The outcomes of the recent Government review into the costs of urban and rural authorities can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/costs-of-service-delivery-in-rural-areas

For Cornwall’s world of education, the Education Services Grant for 2015/16 will be £4.250m. This is broadly in line with the Council’s own estimates and this also takes into account anticipated Academy transfers during 2015/16. Indicative allocations of Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) funding have been announced. For Cornwall this is broadly as expected at £339m and will be an increase on the previous year’s funding. In 2015/16 sees the first step towards a harmonisation of funding rates by the Department for Education (DfE), the benefit of which is an increase in the per pupil funding rate applied in Cornwall resulting in an uplift of funding for Schools in Cornwall of £4.9m.

The DFE plans to announce the funding allocation for 2 year olds after the census data has been collected in January 2015. It is anticipated that this funding will reduce slightly in comparison to the 2014/2015 allocation as the grant will be based on participation in future.

Finally the DfE published ‘Basic Need’ capital allocations for 2014/15 to 2016/17 in last year’s settlement, which for Cornwall amounted to £32.3m, the majority of which is allocated to 2015/16 and 2016/17. How this money will be spent is currently being worked on.

The Housing & Council Tax Support Administration Subsidy provisional grant allocations were announced before the finance settlement. The Housing Benefit Admin Subsidy which is allocated by the Department for Work and Pensions is £2.309m. The Council Tax Admin Subsidy is £0.684m – giving an overall total of £2.993m. This is £0.556m lower than the overall grant received in 2014/15, but £0.259m of this is due to the transfer of funding to the Department for Work and Pensions for the Single Fraud Investigation Service.

The Government had previously indicated that the Local Welfare Provision Grant would be withdrawn from 2015/16. However it has now decided to continue funding after all, at a national value of £129.9m (£172.1m 14/15). This is now included within the Revenue Support Grant element of the settlement but does not represent new funding. Cornwall’s allocation of this funding is £0.885m. This means that we will be able to continue to deliver a valuable service in 2015/16 to some of our most vulnerable residents. Which is very good news.

All in all the settlement is inline with the expectations of the Council. So there has been no real shockers contained in the draft statement.

 

Cornwall’s Schools to get an extra £4.9m

I very much welcome the news announced today by the DfE that schools in Cornwall will receive £4.9m out of £390m extra pupil funding. Cornwall will be one of the 64 local authorities nationally see an increase in funding.

Before today’s announcement, schools in Cornwall were underfunded by roughly £154 per pupil against the national average (see previous blog on the subject HERE) Today’s extra funding will see an increase of £75 per pupil to £4,472. This rise will be from 2015/16. There is a slight caveat on this, as this amount is subject to final approval in October when the 2014 school census is finalised.

The Council, my colleagues and myself have long argued for better funding for our schools, and todays announcement is a huge step in the right direction on farer funding.

So thank you DfE for listening and giving the schools in Cornwall this much needed extra funding.

Helston College C-Block and why it’s not being rebuilt

For anyone who has had to make a tough decision that will affect people will know how difficult it is. For those who have never had to, then it is easy to knock and past judgement as you often find with the online trolls.  At the May Cornwall Council Cabinet meeting, I had to present a report which I never would have like to present, but had to because of various situations. This report was on the issue of funding a rebuild of Helston College’s C-Block.

Let’s go back to July 2012, the then Cabinet agreed to a C-Block replacement subject to the appropriate funding. To be clear, the original decision was made with no clear idea on how the £10m for the rebuild would be funded.  Move on to the present and since I become the Portfolio Holder which this comes under I have looked at every option of finding funding for this building. Sadly, the £10m cannot be found as I will explain. It must be pointed out, it is very unusual for a Council to support a large-scale scheme like this from its own resources. In fact the Government in the early 2000’s took away this power and money and now gives grants directly.

However, the Government does fund  small building schemes and school maintenance each year. This is called the Educational Capital Grant. For 2012/13 this is £6.8m and for 2013/14 it is £6.34m. This money is for all LA schools, and as you can see it is reducing year on year. To make matters worse, Cornwall Council has maintenance backlog of £59m. Yes, really £59m. This amount has not just suddenly appeared, but is the result of under-funding for school maintenance. So to use all this money for Helston College wouldn’t be enough and would leave all other schools with nothing.

Could this be funded out of the directorate? The answer is no. Why? Well to cover the repayments we would have to find at least £400k per year for over 20 years. This would have a huge impact on the directorate’s budget and would result in other services being cut to pay for the rebuild. For example, the recent decision to close two respite centres due to budget pressures saves £600k per year. So it gives you an indication on what would be needed to do to cover the repayment costs.

There is no scope to change the Council’s capital programme, or use the limited reserves the Council is now left with. As for the latter, the reserves are being used to deal with the severe financial pressures the Council now faces and more recently the added burden of paying for the storm damage.  I hate to dispel the popular myth, but the Council is not awash with money. Furthermore, as per the policy rules, on large-scale works the school has to pay 10% of the costs. Which the college could not fund.

One source of money was identified, and this is the unspent (about £6m) Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). This is ring-fenced money the Government gives to Cornwall for LA schools. However, this money is not controlled by the Council. It is controlled by a group known as the Schools Forum. This forum is made up of teachers from Cornwall who meets and decided how money is spent (I have explained the DSG simply). It is this group who has the power to say yes or no and on this occasion, they said no. Which we can do nothing about it. Off course all of this money would not have done the rebuild on its own, but it could have been made up with some of the money from the maintenance money

I even travelled to London to meet with the School’s Minister which had been kindly arranged by the local MP, Andrew George. Sadly, this drew a blank, but the Minister did someone down to have a look at the college.

So the decision at the Cabinet, which was supported by my fellow Cabinet Members, was to look at a maintenance programme which will deal with the pressing maintenance issues. I wish it was different, but the Council cannot just magic money and fund this without it having an effect on other areas.

There is a small glimmer of hope, and this is the recent announcement of £2 billion worth of funding for ‘Priority School Building Programme.’ Local Authorities, dioceses, academies and multi-academy trusts can submit expressions of interest for an entire school site, or parts of it for funding for rebuilds. I believe this is Helston Colleges best chance of obtaining funding for this much-needed rebuild. I will be doing all I can in making sure Helston College and other school who are in similar positions to be given some of this funding. It is about time, Cornwall was given its fair share of funding, as so often is misses out.

So there you have it, this school is in my local area  and I wish the funding position was different, and Helston like other schools were getting the school building and funding they deserve. Sadly, this is another example of under-funding in Cornwall.

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