Tory councillors have denied there is a “black hole” in Barnet Council’s budget following criticism by a former Conservative colleague.

The council’s medium-term financial strategy reveals it needs to close a £37 million budget gap by 2025 – despite plans to raise council tax every year.

This comes on top of £174 million of savings already made by the council since the start of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s austerity programme in 2010.

At a meeting of the policy and resources committee on Wednesday (February 19), former Conservative councillor Cllr Gabriel Rozenberg (Garden Suburb), who defected to the Liberal Democrats last year, said the budget “shows just how precarious this borough is, financially”.

Cllr Rozenberg claimed the cumulative savings pencilled in for the next five years amounted to a £92.7 million shortfall “if we do not make further savings above and beyond the savings already identified”.

He said: “What is astonishing to me, as someone who was previously in the administration, is that absolutely none of this was visible 12 months ago.

“If you go back and compare the same budget page 12 months ago, you see a cumulative deficit of single-digit millions over that same period.

“We now have, I think, an increase in spending over the coming four years of £136 million versus what this council told its residents 12 months ago.

“I cannot quite understand how the outlook has darkened quite so dramatically. You don’t have the reserves to fill this gap.

“A £93 million black hole has opened up in the budget of Barnet Council. What are you going to do about it?”

But council leader Cllr Dan Thomas (Conservative, Finchley Church End) replied: “It is not a black hole – it is a budget gap. It is a very different thing.

“You know full well our reserves have never really covered savings targets. That is not the purpose of the reserves.

“We have had these budget gaps before – we had them in 2010, at the beginning of austerity. We have addressed them, and we will continue to address them.”

Cllr Peter Zinkin (Conservative, Childs Hill) accused Cllr Rozenberg of “trying to achieve a headline”.

He said: “Overall, there is more prudence in this year’s budget than we have had for a number of years.

“We are putting out there the scale of the challenge which we and, in reality, all other local authorities with a demographic like ours [are facing].

“There is no black hole. There is just a lot of pressure from vulnerable people in the borough that we are determined that we will meet our responsibilities towards.”

Barnet Council’s budget for 2020-21 includes a 1.99 per cent increase in core council tax and a 2 per cent increase in a levy used solely to fund adult social care.

Cllr Rozenberg joined Labour councillors in voting against the budget and medium-term financial strategy, but they were passed by members of the Conservative administration.

They will be discussed again at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday, March 3.