Southwark Council has pledged that no cuts will be made to its special needs services for young people, which include autism support, despite approving a budget that saves hundreds of thousands of pounds in the area.
The council is looking to save more than £300,000 from the budget for its early years autism support service, special needs inclusion practitioner service and home education services for children up to two years old.
The early years support service staff work with pre-school children to support their development socially or to help their families understand their diagnosis.
Southwark’s budget document said that alternative funding sources would need to be found for these services. Cllr Jasmine Ali, who is in charge of the council’s services for young people, was unable to confirm this week where this money would come from – but promised that the services would remain in place.
An equalities analysis included in the document showed that if these services were to be cut, there would probably be an “adverse impact on children and young people with protected characteristics and their families”.
Speaking at a council overview and scrutiny committee where the savings were discussed, the borough’s Liberal Democrats called for the decision to come back before the committee if no alternative funding were found. The party’s leader Hamish McCallum said Labour were putting services for vulnerable people “at risk”.
Cllr Ali said: “The council has a statutory duty to produce a balanced budget, something that is more and more challenging following more than a decade of crippling cuts to funding from government. Our absolute priority is to protect our more vulnerable residents and frontline services from funding cuts, but it’s getting harder each year.
“However, our cabinet report made it clear that we were seeking alternative sources of funding to avoid any cuts to our education services, including those for children with special educational needs and children with autism, and I’m delighted to announce that we have done what we said we would. There will be no changes to these important services, which I know will be welcome news for local families.”
Southwark’s publicly available autism strategy says that the borough has one of the highest rates of autism among young people in the country, and the number going to local schools is increasing every year.
In the strategy, the council says that there are 1,100 children and young people with autism who are known to local services in Southwark, so a rough estimate for the number under the age of five might be in the low hundreds.