According to Rochdale council, a new special school will be ‘fundamental’ to driving down the huge cost of children’s social care.
Councillor Allen Brett stressed the importance of the facility after cabinet members approved the disposal of land at Heywood Sports Village for the building.
It comes after the government gave the green light for the school – which will create 75 ‘desperately needed’ places for 11-19 year old's with autism, earlier this year.
A report presented to councillors noted the cost of out-of-borough placements for youngsters with special educational needs was ‘significant and rising’.
The same meeting also heard the authority had overspent its budget for children’s social care by £5.6m during the last financial year.
And with Redwood special school now ‘full’ – despite being extended – the financial significance of a new facility in the borough was not lost on Coun Brett.
Speaking after the meeting he said, “That is fundamental, that is one of the biggest costs going."
The council had to raid it's reserves to balance last year’s budget – the net overspend of which came in at £2.7m.
Coun Brett says he anticipates another overspend in children’s services in 2019/20, albeit possibly one 'not of the same magnitude'.
However he ruled out wielding the axe elsewhere to fund children’s social care.
“I’m not going to cut anything else, what it means is funds we have and balances we have in the equalisation reserve we will have to draw down on.
It’s a national problem. We are working, very very hard and making all sorts of efforts to reduce it, but they take time.”
His comments were echoed by children’s services chief Kieran Heakin, who earlier this year estimated the new school could save the council in the region of £5m.
“The pressures are still on us, it’s a national trend, we are not the only ones experiencing problems at the moment,” he said.
But he added he was working with the council’s finance chiefs to come up with ‘long-term’ solutions – with the new special school being a case in point.
“When that kicks in in 2022, that’s going to save several million a year because the children will be educated in Heywood.
And more importantly we had children going to schools the other side of Stockport – that’s a two-hour journey by the time they have picked up a few on the way, and that’ s without any hold-ups on the motorway.
That will be a relief to parents and learners, and not spending two hours on a bus means more curriculum time during the day.”
The council report also noted disposing of land at Heywood Sports Village (or back-up option Bullough Moor playing fields) could cost the council in terms of lost rental income or payment for its sale.
But Gail Hopper, the council’s director of children’s services, told cabinet members the saving from educating children with special needs within the borough would cover either.
She said, “If we had gained that cost, we would have still spent more placing children outside Rochdale so one evens the other out.”
The cabinet meeting was held at the council’s Number One Riverside offices.
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