Important week in the BCP campaign against Safety Valve, including a great protest and a unanimous council vote

Victory for Safety Valve scrutiny, however mainstream schools still face budget cut after separate vote

Important week in the BCP campaign against Safety Valve, including a great protest and a unanimous council vote
By: Rachel Filmer  | 

Leading up to the crucial full council meeting on 20th February, where Safety Valve was on the agenda, members of BCPACS spoke to and met with councillors to share their stories and concerns. We had some very helpful meetings with councillors from across the area who listened to our concerns, and many residents shared our FAQs with their ward councillors.

In the days before the meeting, councillors were advised that anyone with a personal connection to someone with an EHCP must declare this, and would not be able to debate or vote on Safety Valve. Councillors were invited to apply for a discretionary dispensation. Due to public pressure and an apparently overwhelming number of councillors declaring an interest, a blanket dispensation was given. We still feel that this advice is incorrect, since EHCPs do not relate directly to an individual’s financial interest or well-being, as per BCP Council’s code of conduct. We will be seeking to challenge this further as we move forwards.

Ahead of the meeting, where the recent petition was presented, around 60 parents, carers, children and teachers gathered to protest entry into the controversial and damaging scheme. We are so grateful to everyone who joined the protest and to those councillors who took the time to speak to protestors on the way in.

The petition to reject Safety Valve was presented by Adam Sofianos, who was allowed three minutes to make his case. He explained the objectives of Safety Valve, and why BCP’s 15-year plan would not save BCP from bankruptcy. The speech ended with a call for BCP to change focus and “be better” in its approach to the SEND crisis. Councillors followed up with a number of questions.

Following this, BCP Labour presented its motion to take control of the Safety Valve strategy. This called for any final plan to be reviewed, debated, and voted on by Full Council. Patrick Canavan, who brought the motion, said that they had been “internally prevented” from asking the council to reject any Safety Valve agreement. They also directed officers to focus their attention back to the Government, and demand action on funding and deficit issues. The motion was carried unanimously.

On Tuesday 20th February, BCP’s Safety Valve proposal was the subject of a full council debate and vote. As the plan hasn’t received a response yet from the Department for Education, the vote was not to reject Safety Valve entirely as initially hoped, but on a motion put forward by Labour councillors to ensure the full council has a say before any agreement is signed.

This is testament to the significant campaigning around this issue. The petition, press and protests put Safety Valve on the agenda, proving that community action does have an effect.

However, council did vote to cut school budgets by 0.5% despite Schools Forum voting against this, saying they simply cannot afford such cuts. Depending on the decision taken by the Secretary of State, this may take some schools below the Minimum Per Pupil Funding Level (MPPFL).

This action highlights a real danger. Even stopping Safety Valve does not prevent the council from following through on the proposal sent to DfE. Those cuts to services could still be made, but without funding from central government. The main budget also directed Children’s Services officers to produce “a detailed delivery plan to limit the high needs expenditure”, in line with the 15-year Safety Valve plan. It’s alarming that the financial proposal has been put forward to DfE without any detail about how it would affect services, and the campaign will continue to demand full scrutiny of these actions.

We now need to focus on demonstrating how cuts to services exacerbate the SEND funding crisis. We know that failing to meet needs early, delaying support and defending appeals that cannot be won actually increase costs over time.

There is still a long way to go, but our campaigners have managed an incredible feat which should not be underestimated. Those in other local authorities facing Safety Valve should take note, and join us in our fight for clarity, accountability and scrutiny of these agreements.

Facing Safety Valve in your area and want to join forces? Get in touch with us via email or social media.