Councillors have continued to raise concerns over the long-term funding of nursery schools that could face annual deficits of up to £100,000 a year.

Labour’s Cllr Pauline Coakley Webb called on Barnet Council to cover the budget shortfalls for the borough’s four maintained nursery schools at the end of the current financial year.

But her bid failed after officers cautioned councillors against backing the request, warning that it may not be lawful.

Barnet has four maintained nurseries – Brookhill, Hampden Way, St Margaret’s and Moss Hall. They missed out on a grant from the Department for Education designed to help maintained nurseries following a shake-up of early years funding in 2017-18.

Each school could face an annual deficit of up to £100,000 a year from 2021-22 unless a national funding formula is changed, according to a report considered by the children, education and safeguarding committee on Monday (January 11).

Cllr Coakley Webb (Labour, Coppetts) told the meeting: “There is a huge worry as to how they (the schools) can be sustainable and continue if the Government does not change its tune to alter the funding arrangements.”

Cllr Coakley Webb said her recommendations were designed to ensure the nurseries “know we are still going to support them”.

Ian Harrison, the council’s education and skills director, said he expected funding from a Government grant to cover schools’ Covid-19 costs would reduce their projected deficits.

“Legally, I’m not sure you can just agree to cover the deficit unless you just do it from the Covid grant, because you can’t do it through the funding formula,” he added.

“The problem now is not this financial year, it is next financial year – and I don’t think the council can commit to bridging the budget gap without knowing what the budget gap is.”

His concerns were echoed by Chris Munday, executive director of children’s services. A legal officer cautioned councillors against voting for something they believed to be unlawful.

Cllr Coakley Webb later withdrew the request for the local authority to cover the budget shortfalls. But she called on the council to recognise that the schools were projecting deficits in April and to “consider” meeting any shortfall that remained following a Government announcement on funding.

Labour committee members supported her recommendations. Conservative members voted against, with the exception of Cllr Rohit Grover (Conservative, Garden Suburb), who abstained.

Councillors from the Conservative and Labour groups, along with the borough’s MPs, have been lobbying ministers to come up with a long-term solution to the funding gap for Barnet’s maintained nurseries.

MP for Chipping Barnet Theresa Villiers recently welcomed £100,000 provided by the council to help the schools.

But she warned the extra cash would not solve nurseries’ problems and pledged to continue discussions with children’s minister Vicky Ford to make the case that long-term funding is vital for these nurseries – not just in Barnet, but across the country.