A proposed referendum on increasing council tax by nine times the rate of inflation is “just a smoke-screen for further cuts”, according to the Labour opposition.

The majority Conservative faction of Surrey County Council agreed to vote in favour of an increase nine times the rate of inflation (1.6 per cent) at a party meeting held behind closed doors last week.

From last week: Surrey County Council leader confirms move to seek largest council tax hike in the country of 15 per cent

Council leader David Hodge cited government cuts, and rising demand for adult social care and learning disabilities and children’s services as key factors behind the proposed increase.

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Cllr Hodge (pictured above) confirmed plans for the proposed increase in a statement, which read: “We have to set a budget that will protect vital services for Surrey residents.

“Government has cut our annual grant by £170m since 2010 - leaving a huge gap in our budget.

“Demand for adult social care, learning disabilities and children's services is increasing every year.

“So I regret, despite us finding £450m worth of savings from our annual budget, we have no choice but to propose this increase in council tax.”

But the Conservative party has come under fire from the opposition Labour party.

Arran Neathey, chair of Surrey Labour has wrote to Chancellor Phillip Hammond arguing that “the Tory government’s failed austerity programme and the iniquity of the council tax system” has led to Surrey’s financial hardship.

He said: “I’m afraid David Hodge, as an old-fashioned Conservative, is just a one-trick pony.

“His answer to everything, like this government, is cut, cut, cut – from bus services to fire stations and now adult social care, nothing seems safe from the Tory axe.”

Sunbury and Staines fire stations are due to be replaced by a new base in Ashford later this year after the council approved their closure in 2014.

From November: Surrey County Council paid Abellio £120k to keep Kingston and Elmbridge bus services running until December as new provider sought

Bus services between Kingston and Addlestone, and Walton and Esher High School, were among routes earmarked for closure but the council last year.

Mr Neathey added: “The referendum is just a smoke-screen for cuts, as Mr Hodge knows it will be lost, people will vote no.”

Under current rules, the county 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 – and must hold a county-wide referendum if it wishes to raise a larger amount.

A county council spokesman confirmed this would take place on Thursday, May 4 – at the same time as the county council elections.

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 see these residents paying an additional £190.24.

The proposals will be decided by at the next full council meeting on February 7.

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