Essential frontline services across Surrey face millions of pounds of cuts as the county council stands on a financial “cliff edge”, it was revealed this week.

Adult social care, highways, health, and children, school and families budgets face nearly £72million of cuts over the next five years as Surrey County Council attempts to offset sustained government cuts and “poor spending decisions”.

The cuts would affect vulnerable children and adults with disabilities or mental health problems hardest, opposition councillors claimed.

Bus services could also be cut or removed altogether due to a £735,000 reduction in the public transport budget, while recycling waste could be made more difficult because of a £1million cut to funds for the council’s community recycling centres (CRCs).

The cabinet had approved £93 million of cuts in February – which it said would still leave a funding shortfall of £30million in 2017/18, rising to £73million by 2019/20 – but had not specified how these would fall.

The £72million worth of cuts, set to take place between 2017 and 2020, were revealed at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (March 28) as follows:

  • Adult social care - £25,443,000
  • Children, school and families - £28,880,000
  • Public health - £3,290,000
  • Business services, orbis and customer services - £2,234,000
  • Environmental infrastructure – highways and transport - £2,458,000
  • Environmental infrastructure – place development - £8,763,000
  • ‘Other’ (legal, strategy and performance, democratic, communications, and strategic leadership) – £732,000

Steve Cosser, chairman of cabinet overview board, said the council’s medium term financial plan for 2017-2020 was a balancing act between reacting to the “difficult situation the government have placed us in” and “wanting to try and provide the best possible services we can”.

The government has cut the council’s annual grant by £170million since 2010, while demand for adult social care, learning disabilities and children’s services is increasing.

But Councillor Hazel Watson, leader of Surrey’s Liberal Democrats described the cuts as “appalling”, and said the Tory administration was trying to offset “years of poor spending decisions”.

From December 2016: Surrey County Council forced to dip into 'largest ever use of reserves' to address £15 million overspend

From February 2017: Surrey County Council leader U-turns on plans for 15 per cent tax increase minutes before vote

The council was previously forced to dip into £24.8 million of reserves – its largest ever planned use of reserves – after blowing its budget by £15 million, and considered a council tax increase of 15 per cent to balance its budget.

From July 2016: Councillor criticises Surrey County Council's £13 million agency staff bill and lack of guiding policy

From December 2016: Task force set up to help Surrey County Council reduce 'appalling' multi-million pound agency bill

From May 2014: Shock resignations in Surrey County Council expenses row

Surrey County Council’s agency staff bill rose £2.5million year-on-year to £13.7million in 2015/16, and its entire Independent Remuneration Panel resigned in protest after Conservative councillors voted to increase their allowances by up to 60 per cent in May 2014.

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Cllr Watson (pictured above)  said: "The Tories have also chosen to cut millions and millions of pounds from services that support elderly and disabled people in Surrey.

“They are targeting services that help children with special needs as well as cutting support for vulnerable people with drug, alcohol and mental health problems.

“It is simply incredible that these groups of people should bear the brunt of the cuts, caused by the poor stewardship of Surrey's finances by the Conservatives, as well as central government's unwillingness to fund public services adequately.

"We are now in a situation of crisis management at county hall.”

At the meeting on Tuesday cabinet members acknowledged the cuts would not be popular with residents.

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Pic credit: Jon Sharman

Cabinet member for adult social care, wellbeing and independence, Mel Few said: “If we start by looking at fees and charges, we will have a reaction from the community.”

And Councillor Nick Harrison conceded: “Most savings have visible impacts on services and will not be popular.”

Helyn Clack, cabinet member for wellbeing and health, admitted: “We are really standing on the cliff edge here, looking at a very difficult scenario.

“I think the big help that we are going to have here is getting the public behind us about the services that they think that they can manage with and manage without.”

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Council leader David Hodge (pictured above) said: “It is very easy if you are not part of the decision-making process to say, ‘We want more money for this’, and ‘Why have you done that?’

“But I believe we, as Conservatives, have been quite prudent, sensible and pragmatic about how we put this budget forwards.

“I genuinely believe that money we lost on learning disabilities has to be found from other places, and part of that has to come from other departments. Sometimes (taking care of people with learning disabilities) has to take higher priority because it is our statutory duty.”

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