Surrey County councillors have scrapped plans to raise council tax by 15 per cent to fund the borough's struggling adult social care services amid fury from residents.
- From JAN 19: Surrey County Council leader confirms move to seek largest council tax hike in the country of 15 per cent
The proposed increase, announced last month, would have been the highest in the country and would have triggered a county-wide referendum if passed.
At a meeting at Surrey County Council in Kingston this afternoon, leader David Hodge announced he would be abondoning the proposals and instead raising council tax by 4.99 per cent.
Councillors have approved the adjusted budget and 4.99 per cent rise, with 53 councillors in favour, 18 against and one abstention.
Under Government rules, the council can only raise its share of the tax by an additional 4.99 per cent each year – 3 per cent of which is ring-fenced for adult social care.
BREAKING Leader of @SurreyCouncil backtracks on plans to increase council tax by 15%, instead recommends increase of 4.99%— Rachel Dickerson (@dickersonrach) February 7, 2017
The average Surrey resident according to house value – those living in Band D properties – paid £1,268.28 in 2016/17. A 15 per cent increase would have seen these residents paying an additional £190.24.
But following the vote this afternoon taxpayers in Band D properties will instead face a £63.27 on their council tax bill.
Councillor David Hodge, leader of the Conservative administration, which has a majority of around two-thirds in the council, confirmed the plans on January 19, blaming demands on adult social care, learning disabilities and children's services for the planned hike.
He said the backtrack will be welcomed by Surrey residents and was "shocked" by some councillors' opposition.
Opposition Lib Dem leader Hazel Watson called the council's budget a "disaster", and criticised councillor Hodge for cancelling an "unwinnable" referendum.
She said: "Councillor Hodge has divided this chamber. He's merely cancelled the referendum he knew he was going to lose."
Labour leader Robert Evans said the whole budget was "a shambles and should be sent back to the drawing board" as he addressed the chamber this afternoon.
The budget announcement, which was due to be the first item on today's 10am agenda, had been delayed by some three hours as Cllr Hodge spoke to those in central government.
Cllr David Hodge addressed the full council meeting today
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Hodge admitted that no deal had been agreed with Westminster, but that reassurances regarding local government funding were going to be looked into.
He said: "I think it's really important we got the message over and I think that's the key thing here for the people of Surrey because at the end of the day, I have never wanted a referendum.
"I believed it was something we had no option but to say, what would have been a requirement if we didn't see some sort of coming to understanding of where we are."
But Cllr Hodge would not comment on whether the reassurances from central government were concrete.
He said: "I wouldn't go into all the discussions I had with government because for obvious reasons they were private discussions at that time, but I do believe the government now understands that adult social care is at crisis in this country and a solution has to be found.
"I don't think there's anyone in this country that disagrees with that."
Cllr Hodge denied that backtracking from 15 per cent to 4.99 per cent was a "political game".
He said: "I'm always open to changing my mind, I always said I was looking for a way forward and I believe the dicussions [with Government] will help towards doing that as we go along in the future."
He also dodged questions as to whether Surrey residents could be looking at a referendum next year should a solution from government not be found.
He said he was only required to "address this year", adding that he hoped the council would be in a better situation in 2018.
Throughout the debate, several councillors accused Cllr Hodge of backtracking in light of the upcoming county council elections in May.
But Cllr Hodge denied the his change of heart was a politcal move.
"I've never actually looked at this about my re-election. I believe the people in my personal division where I am in Warlingham, in Chelsham, Farleigh, Tatsfield, Titsey and Woldingham, they know me, they know the sort of person I am.
"I'm out everyday, every weekend out delivering leaflets, my wife joins me, we have a great time delivering leaflets, we talk to people.
"This is about how you communicate to the people in your division, every meber should be doing this, I hope they do.
"But at the end of the day the people in my division will make their own decision whether they think I do a decent job on their behalf and I stand up for them."
- What do you think? Comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org