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Surrey CC cabinet backs referendum on 15% council tax rise

Surrey County Council’s proposal to raise its council tax by an enormous 15% has been backed unanimously by the authority’s cabinet.

The tax rise will now be considered by the full council on 7 February followed by a public referendum on 4 May if the council approves of the plan.

The decision, which must be put to a referendum due to the proposed rise being way over central government’s 3.99% cap, has been proposed by the council as it fights to defend the county’s social care and children services despite the government allowing councils to increase their social care precept to 6% over the next two years.

“Today we face a dilemma in terms of our budget. We are left with a stark choice between recommending a significant increase in council tax for next year or making serious cuts to services throughout the county,” said, Cllr David Hodge, leader of Surrey County Council.

“We are recommending that we use the mechanism the government has set in place for councils to put proposals to their residents for council tax increases. We are recommending a budget for 2017-18 which will include a 15% increase needed to fund social care and other vital services in Surrey.”

As the referendum would take place on 4 May, after the 2017-18 financial year has already begun, Surrey residents would start paying the increased rate in April with the council intending to amend residents’ bills and issue refunds to annual payers if the proposal is voted down.

Council documents estimated that the referendum could cost the council up to £300,000, with the cost of re-billing likely to reach up to £630,000 if residents reject the rise.

Surrey is not the only council looking to resort to desperate measures in order to preserve services, as Liverpool considered polling residents on a 10% council tax rise last year in order to help the council raise £90m over the next three years. However, Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson’s idea was vetoed after participants in an online consultation said they would not support such a deal.

Last December, Cllr Claire Kober, chair of the LGA’s resources board, warned that many councils now feel forced to raise council tax to offset “spiralling” social care costs after years of trying to keep council tax as low as possible.

“Services supporting the elderly and disabled are at breaking point; it cannot be left to council taxpayers alone to try and fix them,” Cllr Kober said. “Only genuinely new additional government funding for social care will give councils any chance of protecting the services caring for our elderly and disabled.”

The DCLG said that it will trust the people of Surrey to make their own decision on the council’s proposals in the referendum.

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