AN education authority which is set to reshape special educational needs and disabled (SEND) provision amid a £4m annual overspend on the service is not conducting a cost-cutting exercise, councillors examining the move have claimed.

Councillor Janet Jefferson, chairman of North Yorkshire County Council’s young people overview and scrutiny committee, said she was confident the authority’s proposals would enable it to improve provision for SEND pupils while operating within its £44.8m budget.

She said she wanted to reassure residents about the nature of the plans, particularly ahead of a decision by the authority over the introduction of school transport charges for SEND pupils.

The meeting was told the budget pressure would be managed by increasing capacity and closing gaps in provision for SEND pupils.

Councillors heard a key feature of the proposals was a drive to cut high-cost placements outside the county and increase the number of SEND pupils being taught at mainstream schools.

The committee heard planned changes also included work to enable SEND pupils experiencing difficulties to remain at mainstream schools and build SEND schools in areas where there was no provision.

Members were told the council was facing “significant pressure” on its SEND budget as Government funding was insufficient to meet demand, which was set to rise by 37 per cent by 2022.

The surge in demand was being driven by included improvements in the diagnoses of conditions such as autism, the increased profile of mental health and medical advances leading to more children with complex disabilities surviving, the meeting heard.

Despite being told by officers the review aimed to increase provision for SEND pupils, members repeatedly questioned officers whether the review was about making efficiencies rather than cuts.

Councillor Clifford Lunn told officers: “You are going to find it difficult to cut your budget by nine per cent.”

A public consultation over the proposals will start on Friday and run until June 28.