A FORMER council leader has been left “flabbergasted” by the cost of a cost-cutting scheme to educate more special educational needs and disabled (SEND) students locally at new specialist centres soaring by more than £1m.

While Darlington Borough Council is facing having to pay £990,000 more on changes to Rise Carr College and £66,000 extra on creating a SEND unit at Red Hall Primary School, a meeting of the authority’s cabinet next week will hear the initiative is being fully funded by the government.

However, the authority’s leader at the time the strategy was agreed, Councillor Stephen Harker, said the council’s claim the large rise in costs would have “no direct financial impact” on the financial pressures the authority was facing following Covid-19 was “disingenuous”.

The Labour opposition leader said: “Just because the council has some government funding available for the schemes doesn’t mean it has to spend it. If another scheme comes along there will now be £1m less to spend on it.

“There are costs that have risen for work that didn’t need detailed investigations on the ground and could have been included in the original estimates.”

Cllr Harker’s administration launched the SEND strategy in March 2019 to ensure young people are in the right placement with the right support and create places at mainstream schools, improving outcomes for pupils and cutting the rapidly rising costs of educating children outside of the borough.

At the time Government funding for Darlington’s high needs pupils for the coming year was £12.25m, for which an overspend of £1.4m was projected and a £1.6m overspend had been carried over from 2018.

The soaring costs are due to increasing rates of children being diagnosed as having special needs. The number of pupils given Education, Health and Care Plans rose from 385 in January 2013 to 683 in January 2018.

An officers’ report to the meeting states: “As well as the benefits to those young people being able to access local provision and the reduced travel time and associated costs, total placement savings for the High Needs budget are projected to be just over £1m per annum once the units reach full capacity.”

The report states the council tried to lessen the chance of a significant rise in the cost of the schemes by undertaking environmental surveys and discussions with statutory bodies.

However, it says the planning process identified a number of issues, resulting in design changes, catering for listed building requirements and alterations to resolve safeguarding concerns.


unforeseen costs include relocating the head teacher’s office to the administration office to create a large meeting room and the addition of a small group room for children with severe social, emotional and mental health needs to be taught in on a one-to-one basis.