NEWPORT Council has decided to “defer” the controversial decision to leave a Gwent-wide children’s special needs service.

In October, 2018, the city council gave six months’ notice that it was leaving the Sensory and Communication Support Unit (SenCom) – a unit that supports children across all five Gwent local authorities with hearing, communication and visual needs.

The service is funded by all five local authorities, and run by Torfaen Council.

The decision was set to save the council £250,000. It had announced plans to create its own in-house service for around 380 children in Newport, which would offer an equivalent level of service while saving money.

But today, Newport has confirmed it will “extend” the withdrawal notice until March 2020.

The Welsh Local Government Association has offered “financial support” to develop a “more sustainable” regional service.

A letter, sent from leader of Newport council Debbie Wilcox to the leaders of the other four local authorities, says “working with partners to secure an alternative regional model” was an option the council had been considering.

“Our concerns with the current position are well documented and we have concluded that maintaining the current model is not a sustainable approach for Newport City Council in the longterm,” the letter continues.

READ MORE: Newport Council withdraw from Gwent-wide Sensory and Communication Support Service

“As I remain hopeful that an alternative collaborative approach can be developed that will meet the needs of citizens across the region, I am proposing to defer the decision of Newport City Council to withdraw from the SENCOM service until March 2020.

“I have had constructive preliminary conversations with the Welsh Government and I am hopeful that there may be some assistance available to help the partnership undertake this assessment. My hope is that together, we can develop a new, more sustainable and more effective shared service.”

The decision comes after months of campaigning from parents, national charities, politicians and the South Wales Argus.

A legal challenge was made in January on behalf of a blind nine-year-old with autism from Newport, Brogan Battersby. Proceedings had been issued, but it’s unclear what impact this decision will have on the case.

The status of 10 SenCom staff who agreed to take redundancy as part of the change-over process is also unclear at this time.

READ MORE: Parents of a blind Newport boy speak out about SenCom decision

Brogan’s grandmother and main caregiver Dawn has been campaigning against the move since October.

She told the South Wales Argus she was “overwhelmed” at the news.

“I would like to think this will be the end of it,” she added.

“Hopefully they will approach things in a different way now. It just makes sense for all these children to stick with a regional service.

“It would be good if something could be put in place to stop decisions like this being made again.

READ MORE: Newport City Council could face a legal challenge over its SenCom decision

“I’m over the moon, it’s wonderful news.”

An online petition against the decision attracted more than 2,500 signatures, and AMs Lynne Neagle and Alun Davies spoke out against the move in the Senedd last week.

A spokesman for Newport City council said: “Following further talks with Welsh Government, and the offer of financial support through the Welsh Local Government Association to develop a more sustainable regional model, Newport City Council has offered to extend the withdrawal notice from the joint Gwent service until March 2020.

Leader of Newport City Council, Councillor Debbie Wilcox, said: “We remain clear that the current model is not providing the best possible service for young people in Newport. However, we want to work with all authorities in Gwent to review the current regional SenCom service and hopefully agree a model that meets everyone’s requirements.

“We have to balance our responsibilities to service users with our broader responsibility to ensure value for money for all council taxpayers which means we are not able to continue with the existing set-up. However, with agreement from the other local authorities, we will now have time to consider how the service can be improved or remodelled so that it is fit-for-purpose for all users.”