COUNCILLORS from across the political divide have agreed to join forces to press the Government for extra funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

A meeting of Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet heard the authority’s Labour and Conservative groups would urge ministers to inject funding as the cost of providing SEND services spiralled.  

The pledges came as the council’s leading members agreed to launch consultation exercises to reduce the cost of SEND services, by moves such as will reviewing children’s needs on an annual basis. 

The authority’s children’s services boss, Councillor Cyndi Hughes told members said “sitting back and doing nothing” was not an option, citing  a consistent overspend on SEND home to school transport in recent years, which rose to about £500,000 last year.

The meeting heard the council received £6,000 from the Government per SEND child, but a £3m overspend was expected by the end of this financial year.

In addition, the budgetary pressures had been aggravated by the number of SEND children in Darlington rising by 17 per cent in the last four years.

The council’s Opposition leader, Conservative councillor Heather Scott said the time had come for the Government to review funding for SEND services.

She said: “All local authorities are really struggling with budgets as far as special educational needs are concerned. We as a group will certainly be lobbying for more money to be put that way. “

Cllr Hughes responded that the council’s director of children’s services was working with colleagues across the country to raise the issue with the Government, while senior councillors had met with Darlington MP Jenny Chapman to discuss the need for additional funding.

She said in the meantime the council needed to introduce significant changes.

Cllr Hughes said: “Children’s services budgets are under immense pressure from the increasing numbers of children that are in need of protection and care or require interventions and support for a variety of social, emotional and health needs. All at a time when local government funding is at an all-time low. Since 2010 we have had to cut £45m from our overall council budget. Operational and service delivery changes are imperative if services are to be effectively delivered and sustained within the budget in future years.

“To make changes that are workable and positive we need to continue to work ever more closely with children, parents, schools and transport operators to try to find a balance between the most appropriate support and best value for money. “