County council defends lobbying efforts for SEND funding

County Hall, Northallerton.

Conservative-run North Yorkshire County Council has defended its efforts to press the Government for more funding to cover the spiralling cost of providing for special educational needs and disabled (SEND) pupils.

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive saw campaigners question the authority’s lobbying of ministers as the High Court heard there was “genuine crisis” in funding for young people with SEND in the county, as well as elsewhere.

Lawyers representing three families, including that of 14-year-old Benedict McFinnigan, from Scarborough, have brought a landmark legal challenge against the Government, stating the funding intended to support SEND pupils was “manifestly insufficient” and unlawful.

The North Yorkshire boy has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and chronic insomnia, but has been refused an education healthcare assessment by the county council, solicitors said, meaning he has not attended a mainstream school for two years. Instead he attends a pupil referral unit for under three hours a day.

Jenni Richards QC, for the families, told the court the direct result of the lack of funding was that children with Send were not being properly educated, notwithstanding the fact that Parliament had required their needs to be met.

During Ms Richards’s opening remarks, Mr Justice Lewis said: “Their mothers are doing an amazing job, quite frankly, when you read what they are doing on a day-to-day basis.”

The families are bringing a case against Chancellor Philip Hammond and Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

Ms Richards argued that Mr Hammond acted unlawfully when setting the national budget in October 2018, and that Mr Hinds did so when making available additional, but “manifestly insufficient”, Send funding in
December 2018.

Government lawyers said the increase in demand was recognised by the ministers and that Mr Hinds had “made it clear” that High Needs would be one of his priorities ahead of the 2019 Spending Review.

Sir James Eadie QC, representing the ministers, said Mr Hammond had “consistently given careful consideration and appropriate weight” to the situation, but that his focus was on “competing and pressing” calls for the “scarce resource” of Government funding.

The North Yorkshire County Council executive meeting saw Stuart Carlton, its corporate director of children and young people’s service, outline efforts to make ministers comprehend the scale of the funding issue in the county.

He said the council had raised the issue with the county’s MPs, the Local Government Association and through the County Council Network, for which the council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les is the children’s services and education spokesman.

The meeting was told the authority had discussed the issue directly with ministers and that it had been providing evidence of the funding problems to Whitehall bosses.

After the meeting, Cllr Les said he welcomed the legal action insofar as it brought the issue to the Government’s attention again, but the authority had not felt the need to take part as “we feel we have got our message across”.