Dear Colleague letter – Special Educational Needs

I am glad that that the Govt has made this much needed funding available as I have long supported more support for children with special educational needs.  I am pleased that the children with SEN in my constituency will benefit from this funding.  I know from my work with constituents how important it is for their children to be able to access the right support so that they can realise their potential and thrive.

 

26 March 2024

Dear Colleague,

 

SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS AND DISABILITIES AND ALTERNATIVE PROVISION IMPROVEMENT IN ENGLAND: DELIVERY PROGRESS

Today, I am announcing £850 million of capital allocations to local authorities to support the creation of new places for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) or who require alternative provision, forming the final part of our £2.6 billion investment in high needs capital between 2022 and 2025. This overall funding is triple our investment compared to just 3 years ago.

Along with the funding already provided, it will mean this government is delivering over 60,000 new places for children with SEND or who require alternative provision since 2010. 30 successful applications to run special free schools have been announced today. We will also announce the location of 15 new special free schools by May.

https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2024-03-26/hcws384

We’re delivering on our plan to ensure every child gets the right support at the right time. That is why we are providing significant investment into the high needs revenue budget, which in 2024-25 will have increased by over 60% since 2019-20 to over £10.5 billion.

To improve workforce capacity and capability, we will be training up to 7,000 more early years special educational need coordinators, and 400 more educational psychologists.

In January, we published a new initial teacher training and early career framework which includes new and updated content on SEND.

We have also recently announced that scholarship funding will be available to support participants undertaking the new mandatory National Professional Qualification for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (NPQ for SENCOs) in autumn 2024.

In addition, we are supporting schools to better meet the needs of neurodiverse children through the £13 million Partnerships for Inclusion of Neurodiversity in Schools (PINS) programme. The programme will bring together specialist staff (for example speech and language therapists, and occupational therapists) and expert parents into mainstream primary schools to upskill teachers and other staff to better support neurodiverse children.

To support more young people with SEND to transition into sustained, paid employment, we are investing c£18 million until 2025 to build capacity in the Supported Internships Programme. Initial data from our delivery partner indicates that over 3000 young people are taking part in an internship this year.

I want to thank you for the work you do in your constituencies to support families of children with SEND and in alternative provision.

I also want to thank the children, parents, sector leaders and organisations for the support, challenge, and advice they have given us. We will continue to draw on their experiences and expertise as we refine and deliver our reforms.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you want any further detail.

Yours sincerely,

The Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP

Secretary of State for Education

Visit to Luckley House school

On Friday 22 March I accepted an invitation to speak to the Six Form Politics and history students and staff at Luckley House.

As the only speaker I kept off current UK party politics in its pre election period. I gave them a talk about the US and European elections setting out the  main views of the different parties and groupings and discussing the constitutional background in a balanced way. I was asked some interesting questions about the usefulness of historical understanding in modern politics, about how the  machinery of government worked with advisers and electorates seeking to influence outcomes, and about the role of independent bodies .

Cleaning up the litter

This morning I joined volunteers in Swallowfield to help pick up litter. I had soon filled a large rubbish bag with old drink cans, food wrappings, crisp packets and other debris.

Thanks to all those who turned out to help. The place looked a lot tidier as we piled up the bags of rubbish.

Wokingham Borough digs a bigger hole over California Crossroads

The Lib Dem Councillors got the Borough to send out a “News release” to tell us what we already know, that the Crossroads are badly disrupted by roadworks they have imposed.¬† The “news” they say is that the work is “on track”. Does that mean it will finish on time? What is the promised date to get the roads back? When will the nearby estates be spared the rat runs through to avoid the junction? How much are they spending on all the signs, traffic cones and temporary traffic lights that have sprung up?¬† Is it on budget, large though that is, or will it overrun? This is a junction to the south of my current constituency used by my constituents¬† that comes into the new constituency of Wokingham at the next election.

We are told these improvements come “at no cost to local taxpayers”. Is the Council unaware that Borough taxpayers pay a lot of Income Tax and VAT and this money is being used to pay for these works? The Council designed and approved¬† the scheme despite local oppositi0n. The government provides grant from taxation for schemes Councils choose and undertake and does not seek to impose its own alternative view of what is wanted. This is part of the local road network, not part of national highways run by the government.¬† ¬†They reveal¬† a wanton approach to tax revenues in this throw away line.

It says the work will create “an appealing and safe centre “. We already had an appealing and safe centre before they dug it all up. The long works are doing grave damage to local businesses which many people have used in the past but now cannot get to owing to closed roads. The Council has failed to help or reimburse these important local businesses. Locals want to keep them and many need cars to get to them.

If instead of ignoring the consultation replies against the scheme the Council had been interested in how existing users would like improvements the number one ask would probably have been a larger car park. The present car park before road closures could just about handle the shops traffic, but could not handle all the cars needing access to the school at drop off or pick up times of day as well. The Council clearly ignores the needs of parents or believes they should all walk with their  children whatever the weather and the distance.

I have often used these shops and garage as a driver and as a pedestrian after parking. Cars went through the old junction at a slow speed so if anyone stepped onto the road to cross the car would stop. The junction allowed the flow of a large number of vehicles safely and successfully. The Councillor says this was “an unloved road junction, which has been dominated by traffic”. It was far from being unloved as the high volumes of car and pedestrian use and use of the shops and school showed. The Councillor implies that the new junction will take less traffic. If so it will make the local facilities less loved with fewer visitors and mean fewer people to keep them going.

Municipal roads are letting us down

I have watched with concern  as Council highways departments have spent much money and time making our roads worse. Motorists and business drivers have to pay huge sums in taxation. There is the taxation on a new vehicle, road fund duty to take a vehicle on the roads, there is the 55% of the fuel price that goes in taxes to the state as fuel duty and VAT, and  the taxes on insuring and maintaining the vehicle. The original idea that motoring taxes pay for the roads has long since been supplanted by spending much of the traveller and transporter  taxes on anything but roads.

Local authorities do not seem to see the roads as a necessary service to taxpayers where they should  constantly consider the ease of safe use of the highways by the taxpayers. Most people need to use roads for good purposes. Van drivers need to get to their next client. Delivery drivers need to get food to the shops and medicines to the surgeries and hospitals. Parents need to drive young children to school in safety. Emergency vehicles need to get to accidents and disasters. Many workers need a car or van to get to their place of employment because of their hours and or the location of their work and home. Few people live in walking distance of a station with an employer in walking range of another station down the line. Few people can do the weekly shop from a bicycle or bus. Buses and cycles too need roadspace.

Years ago when I was a member of a County Council I found then there was a wish to restrict use of the roads by some officers rather than a wish to provide additional capacity and safer freer flowing junctions. Traffic lights were often preferred to roundabouts. More recently Council after Council has set about narrowing roads, removing lanes, creating artificial barriers and bollards to restrict flow, cutting  traffic light green phases on busy roads, changing kerbs and painted lines, creating more special zones. They often take out parking spaces and raise the charges, leading to more vehicles circulating looking in vain for a parking place. Many streetscapes now are a slalom course festooned with many menacing signs. Large sums are spent on aggressive kerbs,with b fancy blockwork for carriageways.

All this undermines business productivity, limiting the number of calls someone can fit in. It adds greatly to business costs and therefore to prices of services as the self employed and businesses need to recoup the increased cost of transport and parking.  It adds to the stress on drivers and can make roads and junctions less safe, as with the country roads where now one way is occasionally blanked out  by bollards forcing vehicles to use the wrong wide of the road to progress. It gives many Councils a bad name and leads the public to be more hostile to all the taxes they have to pay. A council only provides two services to every household, the roads and the refuse collection. If both are damaged and made worse people form a bad impression of the Council as a whole.

Today we see too many roads full of unrepaired potholes, and too many streets narrowed or under road works designed by the Council, against the driver. Too much money is spent on making roads less available and too little on better roads away from pedestrians and homes to allow people and businesses to get about in a sensible way. Coming into work yesterday my optimistic sat nav once again underestimated the time it would take by 17 minutes, not allowing for the all the delays created by Councils through roadworks that many of the public do not want performed.

Reading FC

I have been saddened to read of the financial difficulties of Reading FC and to see the understandable  impatience of  fans with the owner and management. I have not made any public statements as government has no powers to intervene in these matters and it would be wrong to suggest government can find a solution to the difficulties of paying the wages and tax bills and creating more harmony between owner and fans. Reading FC is regulated by the FA.

The Club owner needs to understand that the financial value of the club depends on a strong and loyal fan base willing to buy plenty of tickets for matches and club merchandise. A team is more likely to play well and boost fan numbers if there is no financial problem hanging over them.  If an owner cannot get the fans on board and motivate players it is usually best for a new owner to take over. The goodwill and support of the fans is crucial.

A few have written to me hoping regulation could put things right. The government has consulted on introducing a new independent regulator with powers to intervene over issues like  financing a  club and its ownership. It has promised legislation in due course following more detailed discussions with clubs and the authorities.  It will need to balance club independence allowing them  to make often expensive decisions that offer the prospect of better results, with Regulator worries about overspending  on players, management  and facilities and over the stability of income.  The legislation is not imminent and is unlikely to be retrospective, so it  cannot deal with the urgent issues currently facing Reading FC.

Wokingham Borough Council wastes more money on worsening the refuse service

Householders have been sent a glossy leaflet telling us from this summer Wokingham Borough Council  are going to cancel weekly household rubbish collections and go over to fortnightly.

They are scrapping the blue bags and spending money on  black bins for everyone. Recycling from  the green bags will also be downgraded from weekly to fortnightly. However, they still need to go to every house every week and offer a weekly collection of the food waste.

Why go to all this trouble and cost? It is unlikely there will be any savings as they still have to get round every house every week. It will be frustrating for householders to see the waste service arrive and leave but not be able to get either recycling or household waste removed that week. This looks like another case of paying them more for a worse service, something this Council specialises in. They should try listening to what residents want, and should drop unpopular ideas.

Dear Colleague – Post Office Horizon – compensation for Postmasters

I reproduce the latest from the Post Office  Minister to speed up compensation. I have urged the government to get on with this.

Dear Colleague,

Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill: House of Commons Introduction

Since the 2019 Group Litigation High Court case, the Government has been working hard to right the wrongs of the Post Office Horizon scandal, which began in the 1990s. The Government has been processing full, fair and final claims for financial redress as quickly as possible. The Horizon Shortfall Scheme, which was set up in 2020, has paid out £107 million, and initial offers have been made to all of the main group of claimants. The Group Litigation Order scheme, launched last year, has paid out £34 million, which includes interim payments. For those postmasters whose convictions were overturned by the courts, £38 million has been paid, and since October last year, claimants have been able to access £600,000 in a fixed sum award. This is part of our plan to tackle the Horizon scandal, one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history.

On 10 January, the Prime Minister announced a major step forward in response to the Horizon scandal. He confirmed that the Government would introduce new primary legislation to make sure that those convicted as a result of the Horizon scandal, are swiftly exonerated and compensated. I am pleased to announce that the Bill, to deliver on this commitment,
will be introduced to the House of Commons today.

The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill sets out a clear set of objective criteria which identifies the convictions which are in scope. Individuals whose convictions meet the criteria will have these convictions automatically quashed at Royal Assent, without any action on their part. Records such as the Police National Computer will be amended and individuals will be notified and invited to apply for financial redress. Only if we do not already have information about their convictions will individuals need to act to have their records updated.

All convictions within scope will be quashed on Royal Assent whether or not we have identified the individual at that point.
The legislation will apply on an England and Wales only basis. We have been working closely with colleagues in the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive to progress their own approaches to quashing convictions and wish to see equitable outcomes for postmasters delivered across the whole of the United Kingdom.

The Government recognises the constitutional sensitivity and unprecedented nature of this legislation. The Government is clear that given the factually exceptional nature of the scandal, this legislation does not set a precedent for the future relationship between the
executive, Parliament and the judiciary. The judiciary and the courts have dealt swiftly with the cases before them, but the scale and circumstances of this prosecutorial misconduct demand an exceptional response. We are keen to ensure that the legislation achieves its goal of bringing prompt justice to all of those who were wrongfully convicted as a result of the scandal, followed by rapid financial redress.

With the will of both Houses of Parliament, it is the Government’s intention that the Bill will secure Royal Assent as soon as possible before Summer Recess.

Financial redress for those with quashed convictions

Financial redress is not in scope of this legislation, however once this legislation has been passed, we will provide a route to full, fair and rapid financial redress for quashed convictions. This will be paid on the same basis across the UK, regardless of where or how
the conviction was quashed. I am also pleased to confirm that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be introducing secondary legislation to ensure the monies received are exempt from tax.

I am pleased to also confirm that this new scheme will be delivered by the Department for Business and Trade, rather than the Post Office. My officials and I are engaging with the Horizon Compensation Advisory Board and claimant representatives on the design of the scheme. Those whose convictions are overturned will be able to choose between accepting a fixed sum award of £600,000, which will be paid quickly, or having their losses individually assessed.

I can confirm that Post Office have started work on preparing for disclosure of documents they hold on claimants. Whilst I recognise concerns around Post Office involvement and I am keen to keep it to a minimum, given the data Post Office hold there is a need for them to be involved in disclosure.

Progress on existing financial redress schemes

For the Group Litigation Order scheme, we are mindful that claims are not being submitted as swiftly as we would like, so it is taking us too long to get help to claimants. To remedy that, at least in part, I can announce that we will top up compensation to £50,000 on receipt of a full claim if the claimant has not opted for the fixed sum award of £75,000. If an initial offer is not accepted and independent facilitation is then entered, we have committed to paying postmasters 80% of the initial offer, to help ensure that claimants do not face hardship while those discussions are completed.

In January, the Government announced that it would introduce an offer of an optional ¬£75,000 fixed sum award for participants in the Group Litigation Order scheme. The fixed offer means that claims are dealt with promptly, and some people will get more than they asked for. The fixed offer also has had a helpful effect on other claims ‚Äď it substantially reduces the effort to be invested in small claims by claimants‚Äô lawyers, making more resource available to progress larger claims quickly. I am therefore pleased to announce
today that this policy will be extended to the Horizon Shortfall Scheme to ensure equal treatment across the schemes. Those who have already settled their claim below £75,000 will be offered a top-up to bring their total redress to this amount. Over 2,000 postmasters
will benefit from these top-ups.

We will work closely with the Post Office to ensure these payments can be made as early as possible. The Financial Secretary will be introducing legislation to ensure these further payments are made exempt from tax.

For postmasters whose convictions were overturned by the courts, they can now top up their interim payment to £450,000. Of course, if they have opted for the £600,000 fixed sum award, they will get that instead. This Government is continuing to work hard to right the wrongs of the past and ensure swift exoneration and financial redress for victims of this scandal.

Yours ever,

KEVIN HOLLINRAKE MP

Minister for Enterprise, Markets, and Small Business
Department for Business and Trade

Wokingham Borough paints the town and country yellow and red with road closures

Wokingham Borough has found another great way to annoy us and waste our money. The Borough is littered with yellow Diversion signs and red road closure signs everywhere you try to drive. Have  they bought in bulk or are they hiring all those in at huge fees? What action do they take when they blow over or fall down?

The Lib Dem yellow Diversion signs are particularly vexatious. Because there are so many whole and partial road closures there are lots of different diversions. The signs do not tell you where that particular diversion began or where if you follow it it might take you to. I am glad I know my way around and do not have to rely on  them. For anyone new to the Borough, or a visitor  or driving in a part they do not regularly use it is a nightmare. It is so thoughtless not to put on signs what it is a diversion from and to so people can be reassured they will get back to where they want to be.

They are doing considerable damage to local traders with premises affected by the closures. Will they immediately offer them rate relief? What other action  could they take as many are losing large amounts of turnover? Do they not care ? Do they not understand the community values its local traders and wants a Council which helps them, not one which tries to prevent us getting to the shops to use them.?