Responding to Surrey County Council’s Leader David Hodge’s plea last week for £57 million of transitional funding to counteract unexpected Government cuts announced just before Christmas; Surrey has been granted only – £24 million spread over the next two years.The sustainability of the Council’s services is still in doubt.
While this provides some short-term relief, Surrey County Council (SCC) expects to lose the entire £116 million of its Revenue Support Grant by 2019.
The funding gap is substantial and details of the changes to services are unknown. Residents’ Association and Independent Councillors voted against the proposed budget during Tuesday’s (9.2.16) council meeting.
In his annual budget speech, Leader of the Opposition: County Councillor Nick Harrison pointed out that the Government’s actions contradict its approach in previous years:
“They used to bribe councils with one-off grants to freeze council tax. Surrey was criticised for stepping out of line. Now there’s a complete policy reversal. The Government now presumes that councils will raise their council tax to the limit. Surrey taxpayers paid more in the past to plug gaps; now they must do, or their services will suffer.”
Cllr Harrison warned Conservative councillors about the 4% council tax increase, pointing out that even this will be insufficient to tackle the increasing number of residents needing support in old age:
“Considering that our inflation is well below 1%, a 4% increase in council tax will be particularly difficult for those on low and fixed incomes. This includes a 2% supplement earmarked for the elderly, but the 2016/2017 adult care budget still falls £30 million short because of the cut back in Government grant.”
RA County Councillor Eber Kington criticised the Government’s timing of Revenue Support Grant announcement:
“Does anyone actually believe that the funding of key public bodies responsible for billions of pounds of public money and the provision of key services to every single resident in the country should be at the whim of a provisional Ministerial decision just before Christmas which is finally confirmed in the week of, or in Surrey’s case on the evening before – the Budget setting meeting”
Speaking at the Council Budget Meeting County Councillor Eber Kington was equally critical of SCC’s council tax and Budget setting process. Noting that the Budget papers before the Council had no details of service cuts and changes he said:
“There was never going to be any meaningful data or detailed plans in the Budget papers because that is not the Tory way. Headline figures: big on numbers, unacceptably low on detail. We are being asked to agree a Council Tax rise of 4% without any information on how that will affect the provision of individual services to residents. Where else but in Surrey are council taxpayers told to pay up before they know the deal? A “trust me I’m a politician” budget. But as a Budget process it is not good enough – it never was, and never will be. It is not open and it is not transparent”.
R A County Councillor Ernest Mallett spoke passionately against the continuing cuts that Surrey County Council has faced:
“Having achieved £350 million in savings over the last five years Surrey County Council’s resources are already stretched too thin. Achieving another £350 million, which together account for approximately two-thirds of the Council’s £1.2 billion annual budget may be very well impossible while meeting our legal duties. So why not call their bluff? Let us stop pretending we can maintain front line services whatever the financial weather. We should be saying – if you think all the obligations can be met by the present grant, then you come and do it!”
From the Residents’ Association and Independent Group of Surrey County Council
For more information regarding this release please contact:
Cllr Nick Harrison 01737-215405 07971-664079
Cllr Eber Kington 020-8786-7484 07598-322406
Cllr Ernest Mallett 020 -8979-6446