Surrey council abandons plan to raise council tax by 15%

Conservative-run council planned to poll voters on increase to pay for social care but instead recommends rise of just under 5%

Surrey council has backed away at the last moment from a controversial plan to poll voters on a 15% rise in council tax, mainly to pay for social care, instead recommending a rise next year of just under 5%.

The Conservative-run council, whose leader David Hodge has said it faces a crisis because of central government cuts combined with ever-increasing demand for services, had planned to hold a referendum on the rise.

Since 2012, councils, fire services, and police and crime commissioners are required to hold a referendum if they wish to increase council tax by more than the cap set by central government.

Budget papers prepared for Tuesday’s full budget-setting meeting of the council still proposed the 15% rise. However, a last-minute set of revised recommendations instead said the council would seek a rise of 4.99%, which would not need public approval.

Speaking to the council meeting, Hodge said “relentless” cuts had seen a £170m reduction from central funding since 2010. At the same time, increased demand for adult and child social care meant two-thirds of the budget went on these alone.

Even the 4.99% rise would require the council to make £93m in cuts during the 2017-18 financial year, Hodge said.

The revised budget plan would be voted on by the council, a spokeswoman said.

Hodge told the council he was backing away from the referendum plan, which had caused some alarm in Theresa May’s government, on the assumption a longer-term solution was being planned in Whitehall.

“It’s clear that Surrey is an extreme example of how increases in social care demands impact on local communities and on the health service,” he said.

“The government has listened and we believe that the government now understands. We are therefore willing to take a risk that a solution will soon be found to the issues that all councils face.

“However, if there isn’t any progress in finding a solution to the adult social care crisis, our situation will become untenable.”

Critics had cast doubt on the motives for holding the referendum, given there was such a slim chance residents would vote for the increase. Only one referendum on council tax rises has been held since 2012 and was roundly defeated, with 69% of residents voting against proposals by Bedfordshire’s police and crime commissioner to raise the police element of the council tax by 15.8% in 2015.

Other councils have warned of the social care crisis. Last month the leader of May’s own local authority said other councils could feel obliged to follow Surrey in seeking massive rises in council tax to pay for social care.

Simon Dudley, the Conservative leader of Windsor and Maidenhead council – the prime minister’s constituency – said the scale of central government funding cuts and rising demand for social care and other services meant he saw no other realistic option.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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