Wales politics

Learning needs bill cost rises by £13.1m

Alun Davies
Image caption Alun Davies said the changes were "disappointing"

A Senedd bill revamping the special education needs system will cost £13.1m more than previously thought, according to the Welsh Government.

Officials thought the bill would save £4.8m over four years but Lifelong Learning Minister Alun Davies said it is now expected to cost £8.2m.

Plaid's Simon Thomas said the change suggested a "serious miscalculation".

The Welsh Government said the bill is still expected to save more money than the existing system.

Mr Davies outlined the changes in a letter to two assembly committees.

It came after a charity disputed the Welsh Government's figure for the cost to councils of resolving disagreements over the provision of help for children with special educational needs.

SNAP Cymru, which provides resolution services to most of Wales' councils, told AMs earlier this year that one of the figures which appeared in the bill's regulatory impact assessment had "no basis in reality".

The proposed law's passage through the assembly has now been delayed until officials complete work to revise the figures - following a request from Mr Thomas to allow AMs to look at them again - with the bill not to return before the autumn.

If passed, the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill will set up a single system - called an individual development plan - to replace "statements" which currently address the needs of an individual aged up to 25.

It will also allow parents and young people to appeal to the special educational needs (SEN) tribunal, set to be renamed the Educational Tribunal for Wales.

Originally, the impact assessment suggested it could save £4.8m over four years, with the savings outweighing the costs.

Estimated savings were expected to be achieved from provisions in the bill which aim to remove the current adversarial nature of the statement process, the document said.

But in his letter, Mr Davies said that estimated savings had fallen from £14m over four years to £3.6m.

The overall cost of the bill had changed from a saving of £4.8m to a cost of £8.2m.

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He said the figures were revised after new figures from SNAP Cymru suggested a reduction in the number of cases of dispute resolution and the cost to local authorities of services for resolving disagreements.

"Changes of this scale are disappointing," he added.

SNAP Cymru had disputed a figure in the assessment that 20 out of 22 councils spent an average of £2.7m a year for 1,394 disagreements around wanting or having a statement.

Chief executive director Denise Inger said she was "really pleased that the minister has listened".

Image caption Simon Thomas said the changes suggested some "serious miscalculation"

The Welsh Government already had to alert the children, young people and education committee to "errors" in the financial assessments over the bill in February, including an instance of "double counting".

Mr Thomas, chairman of the finance committee, said: "The whole thing suggests they left the final calculations until far too late in the day when they didn't have sufficient background or discussions with people in the sector."

A Welsh Government spokesman said the bill will "support tens of thousands of children and young people with additional learning needs in Wales, by helping them realise their potential".

"In the light of revised financial information received from SNAP Cymru during stage one of scrutiny, a programme of work is now underway to revise the Bill's regulatory impact assessment," he said.

"These changes do not lead to an increase in the cost of running the new system. The new system is still expected to cost less than the current SEN system."

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