DEVON’S bid to secure emergency funding to plug a gaping hole in the county council’s education finances has made early positive progress, its leaders claim.

Donna Manson, Devon County Council chief executive, said its bid to the government’s ‘safety valve’ scheme had received encouraging feedback from the Department for Education.

Speaking at this week’s cabinet meeting, Ms Manson said it had ‘met every milestone’ asked of it by the government so far.

She said: ‘The most important thing is outlining actions that will reduce the ongoing overspend we have every year.

‘We have had excellent feedback this week that our plans are robust, they are challenging, but the Department for Education (DfE) does think they are deliverable, and that’s what we needed to hear.’

Last year, it emerged that the council is hoping for £70 million to £100 million in funding from the scheme to help it tackle the projected cumulative education-related deficit of £165 million it expects by April.

Ms Manson said there are still some challenges it is working on tackling in its education provision, including finding cheaper provision for some children with special needs or disabilities, and trying to ensure young people have local placements.

She said: ’The good news is, the DfE says our plan is competent, and that means we can deal with the ongoing pressure.

‘But the key is the partnership with schools, and I left one recent meeting enthused by the joint working we have with school leaders.’

Ms Manson will hold an emergency meeting with councillors once the DfE confirms its proposed bailout.

‘We’re not there yet, but the key milestones have been met,’ she added.

‘It’s important that we are positive and constructive, as months ago this challenge seemed insurmountable, and we are seeking to remove the deficit to get an extensive amount of resources.’

Devon submitted its bid to the safety valve programme before Christmas. The scheme aims to help authorities reduce built-up deficits, while also helping them tackle annual shortfalls.

Angie Sinclair, the council’s finance director, added: ‘We will be trying to improve the service while saving money, and the two ought to work together.

‘If we do the right things, at the right time, we can drive down the overspending but achieve better outcomes.’

But Councillor Caroline Leaver (Barnstaple South), leader of the Liberal Democrats, believes other authorities who have received safety valve funds ended up ‘moving away from the child being at the centre of the service’.

‘Effectively, it’s a rationing of money, and I ask the leader and the cabinet whether they are comfortable with the impact on the most vulnerable people in our communities,’ she said.