Council lobbies Government on behalf of young people
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It happens every year.
In the weeks leading up to the Budget and the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review, we hear from everyone who believes they are a special case, deserving more cash from the public purse. This year has been no different.
But it has been very different for the chancellor who has to recoup some of the billions of pounds of public money that has been spent on helping businesses and individuals overcome the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. On top of which, Rishi Sunak has had to contend with soaring energy costs and big labour shortages.
As the leader of a large county council, I also have to contend with competing responsibilities when it comes to setting our own budget every year - nearly three quarters of which goes on caring for the old, the young and the vulnerable - and at the same time fixing a level of council tax which people can afford.
I have written before about the crisis in care with Devon needing to recruit another 1,000 carers to look after our ageing population. But this week I want to consider the other end of the age range.
Young people have been among the most affected by the pandemic with their learning, their exams and their social lives all severely disrupted.
So we’ve written to the Government to try to ensure that the education of our children and our grandchildren is at the very forefront of their spending plans.
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Devon is a member of f40, the national organisation which represents the worst funded education authorities in the country, and my deputy, James McInnes, is currently the national chairman.
Every pupil in a Devon school gets £223 less in Government funding than the national average - £5,145 per pupil compared to the England average of £5,368. Over the last 10 years we’ve narrowed that gap through our Fair Funding campaigns but, as you can see, there’s still some way to go.
Hence our letters to the Prime Minister and the new Education Secretary, Nadhim Sahawi, urging them to make our children and our schools a top priority.
Education in itself is obviously a good thing. The better informed our children are about their world and our civilisation, the more likely they are to lead fulfilling lives and be better citizens.
But this is also naked self-interest for those of us who are getting on a bit. It's a competitive world and only the best educated and highest skilled applicants will get the best jobs. We are all reliant on them to keep the economy growing and pay the taxes which fund our pensions and public services.
So Devon is lobbying on a number of fronts:
Covid recovery – We welcome the additional funding that has already been provided but more needs to be done to enable schools to provide extra support and learning to help pupils recover academically and emotionally from this pandemic.
Special education – The number of children with increasingly complex special needs continues to grow, with demand far outstripping budgets. More money is required for both mainstream and special schools and an overhaul of the system to ensure it’s fit for purpose.
Fairness – Schools in areas like Devon continue to receive far less funding despite the reforms the Government has made. The basic entitlement should be enough to run a school before extra is added for deprivation and higher living costs.
Early years – This has become a major concern throughout the pandemic, with the future of many providers in doubt. Funding for free entitlement has received some support but many providers have lost private parental income.