National and Devolved Politics

06.02.19

Cuts of £82m approved at Surrey County Council as plans to close children’s centres move forward

Surrey County Council has approved cuts of £82m in its budget plans for 2019-20 which will see 31 children centres across the county close.

Councillors approved the budget yesterday as Surrey leader Tim Oliver declared that “not enough has been done” in the past to ensure the authority’s finances are sustainable, which, along with a 60% cut in government funding since 2010, has led to “extremely challenging times.”

The children centre’s closures have been highly controversial and are the subject of a High Court challenge by parents seeking to reverse the £21m cuts to services for disabled children.

The county council leader, who took over only six weeks ago, admitted it was “behind the curve in children’s services compared to neighbouring authorities” but said that despite the widespread concern, the proposals will help target support for the most vulnerable and in need.

Surrey noted it had been forced to use over £80m of its reserves since 2014, and CIPFA had previously warned of a £100m gap in its finances by 2021.

But Oliver stressed that now with transformation programmes across the county taking shape, £106m of savings made this financial year had meant the council did not have to rely on its it “very limited” reserves.

He told the council in a video: “But given the pressures the county faces and the financial challenges that need addressing we are left with no choice but to recommended an increase in council tax by 2.99%.”

“None of us want to see a reduction in services but there can be no doubt that we need to radically redesign the way in which how deliver them.

“In truth we have not done enough in the past to ensure our finances are sustainable and this is now a major piece of work. But I am determined we will put this councils' finances on a solid footing as quickly as possible.”

Oliver expressed his criticism that following the local government funding settlement, Surrey had not been chosen for phase two of the business rates retention scheme.

The Liberal Democrat councillor and mayor of Woking, Will Forster, said the rise would be “unaffordable for many” and was likely “only a sticking plaster for the real problems facing Surrey.”

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