A FARNHAM family is gearing up to take on the might of Surrey County Council in the courts after joining forces with three other families bidding to overturn plans to cut £20 million from services supporting disabled children in Surrey.
The four families, including the Hollow family from Farnham, are angry at Surrey’s proposals to slash millions from budgets that fund schools and services for children with special educational needs, and have instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to take up their challenge.
It comes after mum-of-three Alicia Hollow, 44, set up an online fundraising page calling on people to back a judicial review into Surrey’s “cruel” decision to reduce its schools and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) budgets by over £20 million – casting doubt on services such as school transport and provisions for children with special educational needs to stay in mainstream schools.
Alicia’s son Kian, 14, has autistic spectrum disorder, ADHD anxiety and speech and language difficulties for which he receives specialist therapy sessions, but relies on council-funded transport to take him to school in Roehampton because his mum, who also has a 12-year-old daughter Bella, and son, Edoardo, 20, works full-time as a project management officer.
“The council’s decision is just cruel,” said Alicia, whose fundraising page at www.crowdjustice.com/case/reversesurreysendcuts exceeded its £2,600 target in just two days. “Obviously we would like the council to announce that it intends to look again at its budget. However, if needs be the families are determined to fight this all the way.
“Kian has made good progress since he started going to school in Roehampton. He has his GCSEs coming up in the future and I want him to get the best possible grades he can. The upheaval he will go through if he doesn’t continue to receive the help he needs is going to damage his grades and his life chances.”
As well as Kian, Irwin Mitchell has been instructed to act on behalf of four other children – Dominic Ferris, siblings Zoe and Sean Butler and Kyffin Carpenter – and has written to the council calling on it to overturn its “unlawful” decision or face a potential judicial review.
Alex Rook, partner and specialist public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing the families, said: “The proposed cuts would impact on some of society’s most vulnerable people, with the county council itself recognising that there are now 7,700 children needing education, health and care plans in Surrey, an increase of 44 per cent over the last eight years.
“Whilst we appreciate the very severe budget pressures local authorities face, councils still have a duty to ensure spending decisions affecting frontline services are lawful.
“It is our view that the county council’s proposals are unlawful, including as a result of the failure to undertake any kind of consultation on its 2018/19 budget cuts. It is manifestly unfair for the council to set its budget without any consultation with those who will be affected by the significant spending cuts.
“We call on the county council to reconsider its decision and engage with those who will be severely affected by this decision.”
Zoe Butler, 14, and her brother Sean, 12, from Guildford, have both been diagnosed with autism, and attend schools which are 21 miles apart. Zoe boards at Limpsfield Grange in Oxted while her brother relies on daily transport to take him to the council-maintained Linden Bridge, in Worcester Park.Â Â
Their mum Debbie, 42, said: “If Sean lost his transport or Zoe her boarding, there’s no way we would be able to cope. It would be impossible for us.”
Three-year-old Kyffin Carpenter, from Sunbury, has a rare neuromuscular condition and requires one to one support when attending White Lodge Nursery in Chertsey.
Mum Sarah Jones added: “The support that Kyffin receives at nursery is fantastic. I’ve got nothing but praise for the way the nursery looks after Kyffin and if that was to end it would be devastating for him.”
Dominic Ferris, 14, has a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder and relies on council funded transport to take him to his school in Roehampton.
His mum Catriona Ferris, said: “I am shocked that we were not consulted at all, and it really feels like the families of those affected have been completely ignored in the decision-making process. Â We want to have our voices heard.”
Surrey County Council, which is set to increase its share of the council tax bill by an average £79.74 (5.99 per cent) per household next month, proposes to slash a total of £21,001,000 from its schools and SEND budget in 2018/19 as part of plans to plug a £39 million hole in the council’s finances.
This, despite the council confirming the number of children with a statement of special educational needs or an education, health and care plan has increased by 44 per cent between 2010 and 2018.
A Surrey spokesman said: “We are currently considering our response, but as ever our main focus is making sure children get the support they need.”