Agenda item - Chair's Communications
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36.1 The Chair gave the following communication:
Welcome to this virtual meeting of the Children Young People & Skills Committee. Please note that this meeting is being webcast and is capable of repeat viewing.
At the special meeting of this committee a few weeks ago, I discussed food poverty and the provision of meals over half term. Since then, some of our officers have been working towards providing an offer for the winter break. This work may have now been overtaken – as the Government announced some very welcome funding late on Saturday night – so I look forward to us announcing soon how that funding will positively impact the lives of children and families in our city, once we have more detail.
However – I’m not celebrating too much. We are not out of the woods in protecting the lives of the most vulnerable children and families in our city yet.
A few weeks ago, the LGA made a call for central government to restore £1.7bn funding to children’s services. And it’s clear why. Not only have the services that support vulnerable children and families been some of the worst affected by ten years of Tory cuts, but the impact of Covid-19 has been profound.
At TBM 5 – this council reported a £20m deficit in our budget this year. Indications show this deficit is now going down and I hope TBM 7 reported at Decembers Policy & Resources Committee will show a further narrowing of our budget gap. But that narrowing won’t be enough.
There could be cuts to services for children and families in our city in February’s budget if we do not have intervention from Government to help us manage our budget deficit. This may mean that we lose some of those crucial preventative services. This is a false economy. To cut preventative services would be short sighted. But it is a challenge councils like ours are staring straight in the face, now more than ever, because of the impact of the pandemic.
In our second lockdown period, children and staff in our city are continuing to keep schools, colleges and universities open due to government directives to do so. So we don’t take the idea of a second school closure lightly – but of course, we are constantly reviewing the situation and would support our schools and governing bodies in closing schools should we get to the point where they feel they need to close.
Having had an earlier lockdown period this year, I would be worried about the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. It is partially for this reason that the Green Group put forward a notice of motion at October’s full council to review the impact of the pandemic on the wellbeing of all. Having previously worked in a school myself, I also know that staff are often the people who spot early warning signs among some of the most vulnerable children, and intervene to protect their welfare.
Our schools and colleges have done an incredible amount of work to make our schools safe over the summer. Our officers have also just issued a new revised risk assessment to schools in the city which addresses the challenge of the winter period – how you ventilate a classroom while keeping staff and students able to learn.
We will keep this under review; and if the situation changes, we will look again. But while schools are working incredibly hard, they could still do with more support. That’s why I have today written to the secretary of state for education to ask him to:
- Provide more funding to schools to help them manage the impact on their budget from increased costs
- Ensure that schools and colleges have access to regular, rapid testing whether people are symptomatic or not
- Fund the necessary PPE that staff and students are using and provide assurance the government is looking at sustainability with provision
- Support the wellbeing of senior staff in schools, including by committing to issuing guidance in good time in future and issuing guidance on whether schools and colleges should be preparing for a future scenario of blended or rota learning
- Cancel GCSE, SAT and A Level examinations in May and June 2021, as was done in this years exam period. The longer we wait for this cancellation, the more likely it is schools and colleges will be unprepared for this cancellation – so we’d welcome cancelling them now, rather than later.