A Surrey MP expected the government to provide a £30 or £40 million bail-out to the county council to mitigate a “dreadful” financial settlement, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.
Woking MP Jonathan Lord described Surrey as an “outlier” to county council leader David Hodge and Surrey’s other Conservative MPs, in an email sent on January 9.
Councillor Hodge, meanwhile, argued that Surrey’s “special case” for being allowed to raise council tax beyond the limit of 4.99 per cent was greater than that of other councils.
Surrey Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Hazel Watson agreed that the county council losing £170 million in government grants since 2010 and the rising demand for services for people with a learning disability warranted extra funding, but added that the Cabinet should have been more open about its budget.
Cllr Watson told the Epsom Guardian: “The suggestion that other council’s funding should be reduced to fund Surrey County Council is counter-productive and has just caused resentment from other councils, and has backfired.
“There should have been a lot more openness and transparency in the budget process.”
The county council released correspondence between Councillor Hodge, and government ministers and Surrey MPs, and between the council’s finance department and Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) officers, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 this week.
A spokesman added the release to provide “transparency” in the ongoing ‘gentleman’s agreement’ debate about how the county was funding adult social care.
Cllr Hodge (pictured above) boasted to other Tories of reaching a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with the government to avoid an embarrassing 15 per cent tax hike, in a record leaked to the BBC this week.
Documents released under Freedom of Information show Cllr Hodge believed devastating cuts to frontline services in Surrey were inevitable without plugging a £31 million gap in the county council’s budget, and that without additional government grants this funding gap would grow.
He argued that the increasing demand for adult social care and learning disability services in Surrey, alongside losing £170 million in grants from central government since 2010, rendered the council’s budget unsustainable.
The Liberal Democrats yesterday called for Cllr Hodge to stand down as leader of the council – but the Conservatives dismissed her call as “fatuous”.
Cllr Watson (pictured above) added: “The council needs to move forward and needs to put all of this behind it and concentrate on providing services for Surrey residents.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said no deal had been made, and that Surrey had opted to take part in a pilot scheme in which it would keep the entire total of revenue raised through business rates instead of receiving a revenue support grant (centralised government funding) from the DCLG.
Piccredit: Jon Sharman
A Surrey County Council spokesman yesterday reiterated its earlier position that there had been no such deal, and added: “The ongoing debate about how adult social care is funded nationally and the financial challenges facing Surrey County Council has generated a lot of interest.
“As a transparent organisation we will be publishing FOI requests about council tax for 2017/18 and our responses to these so that this information is available to all.
“We will add new ones as we process them.”
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