Sutton Liberal Democrats have taken umbrage with education secretary Damian Hinds’s remarks after he spoke about how the borough’s schools are being supported to stay within budget amid funding pressures.

Cllr Ruth Dombey, Sutton Council’s leader, urged both the Cabinet minister and Prime Minister Theresa May to take action by making changes to the funding formula as part of the Spending Review later this year.

Sutton’s schools and colleges are in desperate need of funding so that their children and young people can “get the education they deserve”, she insists.

However, concerns were raised when Mr Hinds said schools are being supported to stay within their already-tight budgets by cutting costs on expenses, such things like energy and water bills.

In response to Cllr Dombey’s letter, Mr Hinds said: “While there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we recognise the budgeting challenges schools face and that we are asking them to do more.

“We have therefore prioritised spending on schools while taking difficult spending decisions elsewhere, by protecting the schools budget overall in real terms since 2010.

“The introduction of the NFF [national funding formula] in April 2018 has enabled us to distribute funding more fairly, directing money where it is most needed, based on schools’ and pupils’ specific needs and characteristics.

“For 2019/20, Sutton received £153.3 million in schools block funding, an increase of 4.2 per cent per pupil, or an additional £12.6 million in total compared to 2017/18.

“High needs funding is now over £6 billion this year, having risen by £1 billion since 2013. For 2018/19, Sutton received £37.7 million in high needs funding, increasing to £38.6 million in 2019/20.”

Saying that additional funding is “not the only solution”, he added: “We will, of course, also be looking carefully at what more is required in the forthcoming Spending Review.

“Nonetheless, we do recognise that budgets remain tight, which is why we are supporting schools to make the most of their budgets and reduce costs on things like energy, water bills and materials.”

But Cllr Jenny Batt slammed the comments as “frankly insulting”, with Sutton Lib Dems saying the response doesn’t account for the rise in pupil numbers and continuously increasing staff salary costs.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published a report in 2018 which said overall school spending, per pupil across England, has declined by about eight per cent in real terms.

She said: “Yet again, this Conservative government has failed to adequately address schools’ concerns, and to suggest that they turn off a few lights to save money is frankly insulting.

“We know that the biggest cost pressures for schools are staff salaries and pensions, so saving a few pounds on energy bills will make little difference.”

The Worcester Park councillor welcomes pay rises for school teachers and staff, however, these most be “fully funded” by the Government, she added.