Schools told to return millions to council

PUBLISHED: 15:24 12 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:55 07 September 2010

Susanna Wilkey & Katie Davies MILLIONS of pounds are being clawed back from Camden s primary schools – at the same time as the Ham&High can exclusively reveal a freeze on council tax. In trying to cope with the recession, Camden Council has been forced to

Susanna Wilkey & Katie Davies

MILLIONS of pounds are being clawed back from Camden's primary schools - at the same time as the Ham&High can exclusively reveal a freeze on council tax.

In trying to cope with the recession, Camden Council has been forced to juggle its resources.

But it has provoked outrage among teachers and governors by taking back cash already promised for education projects. This year, instead of letting schools carry their unspent money over, the town hall is retrieving £7million from 21 primaries.

Until now, schools have always been able to keep their unspent cash and use it to plan future projects.

Governors at primaries, including Rhyl, Fleet, Our Lady's RC, Torriano Infants and the Royal Free Hospital Children's School, are furious.

They say the move not only jeopardises future building and education projects but undermines headteachers and damages the good relationship between the council and schools.

Chairwoman of governors at Rhyl, Helene Reardon-Bond, said: "We are appealing against this decision because we are really unhappy.

"We run our budget really tightly and we do not waste a single penny - so this is ridiculous.

"Taking the money back undermines schools and headteachers. It is like saying that they cannot manage their own budget.

"We had already set this money aside for projects. At Rhyl we have worked really hard to be in the black and we are not wasteful, our money is really well used.

"There was a whole range of things we were planning, from building works to having extra staffing facilities to raise attainment."

Janek Toporowski is the chair of governors at Fleet primary which is losing £110,000 - one tenth of its total budget.

He said: "We were assured around October that the department would not be taking money from the carry-over. We are putting forward an appeal about this. We had projects planned for this money.

"We feel frustrated that they have decided to do take this money back. Camden has a very successful schooling system and if the department starts raiding school budgets in this way this will undoubtedly impact on the relationship between the two."

And Mick Farrant, chair of governors at Carlton School which is not affected, said: "I understand they are trying to take £75,000 from the Royal Free School.

"I do not know why they have chosen some schools and not others. Given that the council has £80million sitting in the bank, what right does it have both morally and legally to claw back these balances?"

This week we can also reveal Camden Council will freeze council tax for the forthcoming financial year.

A formal press briefing has been arranged for Monday, where councillors were hoping to unveil the surprise news. However, a Town Hall insider revealed this week: "This is to help the people of Camden through the recession. People are suffering in this economic climate and this is the council tightening its belt a bit to lighten the load for them."

The announcement has been a closely guarded secret with all senior councillors refusing to reveal the rate of tax. Finance chief Cllr Ralph Scott even said the figure was yet to be confirmed, even though the Ham&High's source revealed it was a done deal and coalition members were aware of it.

There has been a long debate over council tax between the coalition partners with the

Conservative group pledging to keep the council tax increase to zero or close to zero in its New Year address.

The early revelation by the Ham&High has also left a group of Liberal Democrats in Camden Council with egg on their faces.

A group of nine Lib Dem councillors wrote to the Ham&High on Monday (see letters pages), claiming to be calling on the council to freeze the tax - even though at this stage the decision had already been made and the move was simply a political stunt.

Other opposition councillors have said caution will be necessary on a zero rise budget, as there are likely to be cuts or increased charges elsewhere to fund it such as the schools claw-back.

Green councillor Adrian Oliver said: "Council funding is under pressure from central government so I would expect a modest increase in council tax - otherwise we will be seeing significant cuts in council services.

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