A senior politician says he sympathises with parents at a school for disabled children facing hefty budget cuts – despite having never visited it.
Councillor Reuben Thompstone, in charge of Barnet’s schools, said there was “no joy” in removing 25 per cent of Mapledown’s budget for after-school sessions and half-term play schemes described as “vital” by angry parents.
But the Conservative cabinet member said the authority’s “hands were tied” after it received a reduction in its budget from central government.
The authority has been criticised for lowering council tax by one per cent in the build-up to the local elections whilst forcing a school like Mapledown to cope with what parents described as “life-changing cuts”.
The council tax reduction saved the average household just £15 for the year but reduced the council’s revenue by £1.3million.
Councillor Thompstone, who admitted to never having visited Mapledown, defended the council’s decision despite claims from opposition councillors that the move was a political stunt intended to buy votes.
He said: “It is a very, very squeezed budget and I can understand why the parents are upset.
“Just about everything was being cut by a certain amount – our hands are tied."
The Conservative council has been keen to promote it's reduced council tax rate, despite continuing to slash budgets elsewhere.
But Councillor Thompstone, who has been in post for 12 months, said: "At no point have we boasted about it but the challenge we have got is we are getting less money and we’re having to examine and scrutinise every bit of spending."
Asked why, in that case, the authority took the decision to reduce council tax, he added: “These are austere times and we want to show we are on the side of tax payers. There is no joy in taking money out of these areas but we’re trying to do more with less.
“I would encourage the school to be more creative in some of the ways it raises money."
And asked if he felt he or the council owed the parents of Mapledown an apology, Cllr Thompstone said: “If I was looking for an apology I would be looking at the last Labour government who left us with this debt.”
He added: "I visit schools and meet with front line workers every week. I would love to have been able to visit every school before now, but there are 118 in the borough and Mapledown is certainly on my list to visit."