A HIGH level agreement has been signed between Devon County Council and the Government which will see an extra £95 million of national funds set aside to reduce the deficit on special needs education.

Devon's cumulative spending on education for children with special needs and disabilities (SEND) over the past 10 years is set to create a deficit of £163 million by the end of this financial year.

In common with many councils across the country, Devon has been negotiating with the Government  for extra funding for special needs education under the so-called Safety Valve programme.

Devon County Council has also set aside £10 million this year to help bring down the deficit.

The new agreement will see the Government contribute £38 million by the end of March with the remaining cash being spread out over the following eight years.

The council will contribute a further £5 million a year from its revenue budget and £20 million from reserves to bring the deficit back into balance by the end of the agreement.

In a letter from the Department for Education to Devon, a spokesperson says: "I am pleased to confirm that Ministers are content to enter into a Safety Valve agreement with your local authority.

"This will include the allocation of £95 million of funding over nine years to contribute to the elimination of your deficit. Thank you for your hard work with advisors over recent months."

County council leader John Hart said: "I am delighted with this extra support from the Government which has recognised the financial problems that top tier councils like Devon have been experiencing across the country because of the hugely increased demand for special needs education and the growing complexity of the problems that these vulnerable children experience.

"This excellent outcome has been achieved through the hard work of our officers and Cabinet members through many months of intense negotiations."

Devon's Cabinet member for SEND, Lois Samuel, said: "This is a significant achievement and opportunity for the council.

“It not only provides the framework for service improvement but also puts the authority back onto a sustainable financial footing.

“It ensures services are delivered within the annual ring-fenced grant for high needs and reduces the cumulative SEND deficit to zero by the end of the term.

“I would like to thank our senior leadership team for all their hard work.

“We now need to work increasingly closely with our partners in schools and the NHS. Working together as a team internally and with our partners is so integral to this agreement.”

Devon’s SEND Improvement Director, Kellie Knott, said: “This is all about improving the outcomes and experiences of our children and young people.

“It is no secret that the councils with the best outcomes are very often the most cost effective too.”

The SEND Action Plan that Devon has agreed with the Government includes:

• focussing on improving early intervention through strengthened universal and targeted support

• supporting young people from 14 to 25 to access appropriate education and training and ensure a planned transition into employment, independent living and their next steps into adult life

• ensuring sufficient special school places along with the establishment of Specialist Resource Provision and improved use of  Alternative Provision

• working with partners to improve the inclusive capacity of Devon’s mainstream schools

• working with partners to improve the way services in Devon - including health and schools - work together to provide seamless support for children and families.