Conservative-run Surrey County Council's leadership has cancelled its own plans to raise council tax by 15% in order to make its budget work for the next few years. Instead, it is now recommending a lower increase of 5% - which will still mean a cut to next year's budget of £93M.
Stewart Edge, Chairman of Waverley Liberal Democrats has said:
"I’m very pleased that the proposal for a 15% Council Tax increase has been withdrawn and if this means the Government intends to provide the funds to avoid some social care cuts this is good news – though other unacceptable cuts are still planned (even with extra funds) by Surrey CC.
"However the Council has a legal duty to prepare a balance budget - not one with a £30M gap between income and expenditure. Surrey Conservative plans appear to plug the gap either with extra money which might follow private conversations between the Leader and Government; or by the identification of additional unspecified permanent service reductions which have not yet been identified to, let alone discussed with, councillors. What a mess our Conservative Government and Councillors have got our County Council into!"
Text of letter sent to Farnham Herald follows below:
National Cross Party Review needed to resolve Social Care Funding Problems
The proposed 15% increase by Surrey County Council in Council Tax – just withdrawn at the last minute - was not the answer to the crisis in Social Care funding. It is not financially fair to raise so much money based on the inequitable distribution of the Council Tax, rather than on the fairer approaches available to Central Government.
The Conservative Government has been asleep on the job as far as Social Care funding is concerned – knowing there are increasing demands from an ageing population, and yet silent in the Autumn Statement and then making cuts to County Council funding to evade their responsibilities. Over 5 years ago the Conservative manifesto promised their own way of addressing some of the issues – but nothing has been done except to cut funding to local authorities; and silence now in the face of this long running problem.
Earlier in January, before Surrey’s 15% proposal hit the headlines, there were two cross-party proposals. Both said that a political consensus was needed to find a long term solution to the social care problems. One was from the three Chairs of the Health, Public Accounts and Local Government Select Committees (1 Conservative and 2 Labour MPs). The other was initiated by the LibDem Norman Lamb and signed by 20 MPs across the parties, requesting an NHS and Care Convention to examine the immediate and longer term funding requirements of the NHS and social care services. (In parallel a separate letter supporting this was signed by charities, professionals and others across the health and social care sectors).
The proposal for a 15% increase was wrong. The Government should address the real problem of social care funding. If the withdrawal of the proposal by the Surrey County Council Conservatives means they will do so this is good news. I fear instead a fudge - just sufficient to avoid the embarrassment of a referendum on a 15% increase being held at the same time as the Surrey County Council elections.