Poor financial controls saw Surrey County Council give a school money for a pupil even after they had been excluded, internal auditors have found.
A report into IT and financial management in the authority' children’s services department also found that data was so poor that it prevented the council from fulfilling its statutory duty for children with SEND.
A report to Surrey's children and education select committee says financial management failings meant: “There is little or no checking of invoices and there are reports of paying for services not delivered, caused by records on [the software system] not being updated properly, for example…paying a school for a full term despite the child being excluded at the beginning of the term.”
Auditors also found that council officers “place responsibility for SEND reviews entirely on schools with no follow-up from care workers”.
They add: “We are therefore unconvinced that the service makes any effort to sustain budgets.”
The report says many of the problems stemmed from IT systems not being understood or used correctly, which led to an absence of meaningful management information and “prevents the council from fulfilling its statutory duties for SEND or as a corporate parent for looked after children”.
Surrey has insufficient local SEND provision, and so has higher costs through “unnecessary out-of-county placement”, the report finds.
The council did not engage with families early enough in the education, health and care (EHC) plan process, which “frequently results in parents arranging private support followed by judicial review in the parents’ favour”.
This increased costs as private therapists employed as a result were more expensive than the council’s own staff.
Since 2014, the number of EHC plans had increased by more than 60 per cent to more than 8,000, some of which was due to legislation but also to “reasons not clearly understood or explored by the service”.
Using independent schools was “a last resort in terms of cost”, but auditors urged Surrey to follow the example of neighbouring East Sussex County Council, which was “exploring a block contract with some of their more commonly used schools in a bid to obtain better fees”.
Surrey’s executive director for children, lifelong learning and culture Dave Hill said: "Most of the senior officers who were here at the time [covered by the report] have now left.
“We have already created new teams to oversee budgets and all the issues raised in the audit are being addressed as part of a restructure of the whole service to help ensure support for children in Surrey is as good as it possibly can be."