A war of words has erupted between the Liberal Democrat Leader of Kingston Council and her Conservative predecessor over responsibility for a multi-million pound financial crisis.
Councillor Liz Green claims the administration of Councillor Kevin Davis did not act soon enough to prevent a deficit emerging in the crucial Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) which funds the borough’s schools.
In response, Cllr Davis says his administration acted a year earlier than Cllr Green says and agreed a rescue plan with then Education Secretary Justine Greening which his successor has ignored.
Cllr Green said: “You need to step in when it’s clear there’s an overspend.”
The council already needs to make £22m of savings in this financial year and she is concerned for the High Needs Block (HNB) of the DSG reserve, which is used to provide support for children with special education needs and has a deficit of £13.8m.
Her fears are based on requirements for the council’s budget to be legal, the overall DSG must have funds in its reserve so legal obligations to care for vulnerable residents can be met.
However, the DSG currently has a deficit of £10.6m.
She claims the previous administration only looked at the overspend in the financial year 2016/17 by which time the DSG deficit had reached £6.4m.
Cllr Davis said: “The deficit on the DSG was regularly reported from 2015 to council committees.”
He claimed because headteachers objected to cuts to balance the budget, he was forced to agree a rescue plan with Justine Greening which he claims his successors are not acting on.
Cllr Green hit back saying was concerned her administration could have to make cuts similar to those seen at the troubled Northamptonshire County Council where funding for early intervention with vulnerable children was reduced and services cut.
She said: “We pick up the bill as a community.”
There is evidence the council’s finances have hit Kingston more widely with the authority struggling to take part in World Car Free Day last month.
Officials at Kingston Town Hall – pictured above – closed St James’ Road for part of the day but the financial situation at the council meant it had little publicity.
Kingston and Surbiton MP Sir Ed Davey (Lib Dem) said: “This is something they [the council] would like to look at but for the moment they’ve got to focus on the basics because the Conservatives left Kingston in such a mess.”
An Education Commission has been established to look at how costs can be reduced and examine the settlement given to other boroughs to strengthen Kingston’s case for more money from central government.
Image of Kingston Town Hall courtesy of Wikipedia