DUDLEY'S leader insists a £15m project to build a new special school is safe despite the council’s financial crisis.

In August 2023 the authority was predicting pupils would be moving into a new Pens Meadow school on the site of the former Pensnett High School in autumn 2025 with the site fully operational the following year.

The council’s finances suffered a hammer blow later in the year after millions of pounds of unexpected spending in social care left councillors facing the prospect of effective bankruptcy.

Despite a spending freeze and advice from their own financial director, councillors from the ruling Conservative group voted to press on with the project.

The council must find millions of pounds more in savings during the coming months to dodge going bust but council leader, Cllr Patrick Harley, says the Pens Meadow project is not in jeopardy.

Cllr Harley said: “Absolutely not. Once built it will save money as at the moment it costs between £60-£90k a child per year to use private send provision. 

“We believe a new purpose built Pens Meadow will reduce future costs as our internal costs per child are just over 30k per annum per child.”

At the council’s cabinet meeting on January 11 the Dudley’s director of finance, Iain Newman, took the unusual step of directly challenging his political masters on Pens Meadow, saying potential savings would be for future years and would not help solve immediate financial problems.

While the council looks set to be able to set a legal budget in March for the 2024/25 financial year it would be by an ‘uncomfortably small margin’ Mr Newman told the cabinet.

Once complete, the new Pens Meadow campus on Tiled House Lane will provide education for 155 young people aged 3 to 19 together with a nursery assessment unit.

The state-of-the-art school will cater for pupils with complex needs, severe learning difficulties, including autism and those with profound and multiple learning difficulties.