DEVON is now ‘an outlier’ for its rising overspend on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), the county council’s finance chief has admitted.

The authority is facing a £37 million overspend on the service this year, which involves caring for vulnerable young people, but the figure does not currently count towards Devon’s main budget figures.

Since 2020 councils across the country have been told by the government to put their SEND overspends into separate ring-fenced accounts while it develops a new funding model – an arrangement that is set to end in April 2023.

It means Devon’s total SEND overspend over the past three years – effectively debt – is projected to be £124 million in six months, yet it still hasn’t received confirmation from the government about what will happen to the total.

The council says it continues to await the outcome of a ‘safety valve intervention’ programme with the Department for Education, which could involve money to help plug the financial black hole along with reforms to the system.

Speaking at the county council’s children’s scrutiny committee, director of finance Angie Sinclair explained that Devon wasn’t included in the first phase of the safety valve programme as it didn’t have one of the highest deficits.

But, responding to a question from opposition leader Cllr Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge), she admitted that since then, ‘more recent figures show us as top in some league tables and second in some others, so yes I would class us as an outlier’.

Her comments differ from those made by council leader John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh & Wembury) in January, who said: ‘Devon is not an outlier. Every local authority with SEND responsibility has got the same problem.’

He added: ‘It is a serious issue as far as local government is concerned, but we’ve had to spend the money to pay the bills and we do need at some stage government clarity and hopefully government reimbursement for that money.’

Devon’s former chief executive Dr Phil Norrey said in the same meeting at the start of the year that the funding system for special educational needs is ‘broken’.

He explained: ‘It doesn’t actually work. It doesn’t deliver what parents and carers want and financially it is unsustainable across the country.’

The issue is not the only financial problem the cash-strapped council currently faces, with Devon warning this month of a potential £75 million overspend on its main budget in the next financial year if more help doesn’t arrive from the government.

Cllr Hart said the county’s financial position has ‘never been so bleak as it is now,’ warning that non-statutory services are at risk of being cut in the 2023/24 budget.

A government spokesperson recently said: ‘We have made an additional £3.7 billion available to councils this year in recognition of their vital role. This includes an additional £40 million for Devon County Council to ensure they are able to deliver key services.’