The snap general election called by Prime Minister Theresa May this week ‘snatches away a pilot scheme’ offering Surrey a financial ‘lifeline’, opposition councillors have claimed.

Surrey County Council had asked to take part in a trial in which it could retain 100 per cent of business rates – a tax on business properties – and the approval process was underway when Mrs May announced Britain would again go to the polls on June 8.

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The impending ballot means there would be “no public decisions” made until after the election, and so would inevitably mean approval for Surrey’s participation in the scheme would be delayed, a spokesman for the Department for Local Communities and Government (DCLG) advised.

It would not, however, mean that the process would be abandoned.

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Councillor Hazel Watson (pictured above), leader of the Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council, said: "This delay follows continuing concern over the state of the County Council's finances and the furore caused by the Conservative-administration's attempts to raise council tax by 15 per cent in February.

“How will Surrey plug the gap in its finances going forward? Does this mean that another council tax referendum is on the cards for next year?

“This pilot was hailed as a lifeline by the Conservatives at County Hall and now it has been snatched away.”

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When asked earlier this week if the 100 per cent rates retention scheme would be introduced from April 2019, parliamentary under-secretary of state Marcus Jones MP replied: “I’m not sure, as we sit here today, I’m able to give you a direct answer (on that question).”

He added: “It will be up to the new government to decide what to do next.”

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Pic credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

In February, Savid Javid (pictured above), secretary of state for communities and local government said that Surrey’s participation in the scheme was dependent on it meeting the necessary criteria and that it would be able to participate in the scheme in the 2018/19 financial year.

He added: “The government plans to undertake further pilots in 2018/19, in areas without a devolution deal, including two-tier council areas.

“The nationwide rollout will then take place across England in 2019/20.”

It was not known how much the scheme could bring in for Surrey County Council, a spokesman advised.

He echoed the DCLG spokesman’s message that approval for Surrey’s participation in the scheme was only being delayed, not abandoned.

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