Education

19.03.19

Families lose High Court battle against Surrey County Council over £21m special needs reduction

Families of children with special educational needs have lost a High Court challenge against Surrey County Council over its plans to reduce its special educations budget by £21m.

As part of £82m of savings in its 2019-20 budget, the authority plans on cutting £21m from its special educational needs and disabilities, forcing 31 children centres across the county to close.

Four mothers from Surrey took the case of behalf of their children to the High Court to challenge the highly-controversial cuts to services for their five children with disabilities.

The parents argued that the special needs budget had been cut without consulting families and asked the courts to rule the decision “unlawful.”

But Lady Justice Sharp said that whilst the budget identified how savings might be made, no cuts had been decided upon or worked out yet so therefore there was no duty to consult at this stage.

The four mothers include Sarah Jones, whose four-year-old son has a neuro-muscular disorder and communicates mostly through sign language. Jones told the BBC that this was about the children getting the support “they need to achieve their full potential in life.”

The claim initially challenged the full £21m reduction in SEND funding but the parents have since focused on one of the eight proposed SEND savings worth around £11.7m.

However, the claimants were unable to challenge the budgetary decision as they did not submit expert evidence on local governance finance.

The council argued that the budget is part of a lawful accountancy process for local government identifying how savings might be made – but isn’t “set in stone.”

Surrey said the case against it was based on a “flawed assumption” that approving the budget would automatically result in a reduction in services for children.

The city council was warned in September by accountancy experts CIPFA that it will face a funding gap of almost £100m between now and 2021 unless it takes urgent action.

In February the authority approved £82m of cuts with its leader Tim Oliver declaring that these were “extremely challenging times” for the council.

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