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Surrey CC proposes referendum on 15% council tax rise

Surrey County Council has proposed raising its council tax by an enormous 15% in a bid to defend the county’s social care and children’s services.

The county will now need to hold a referendum on the proposals as the proposed rise is above central government’s cap of 3.99%.

The announcement marks another local authority fighting to maintain their services in the face of budget cuts, with the council saying that it has “no choice” but to seek the rise in a bid to “protect vital services for Surrey residents”.

“Government has cut our annual grant by £170m since 2010 – leaving a huge gap in our budget,” said Cllr David Hodge, the leader of Surrey County Council.

“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.”

Surrey is not the only local authority to have recently considered a substantial council tax rise as a way to safeguard its services.

Last year, Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson proposed a referendum on a 10% council tax rise with the local authority needing to raise £90m over the next three years or face cutting all of its non-statutory services by up to 50%. However, the idea was vetoed after 57% of participants in an online budget simulator run by the council said they would not support a deal.

Andy Prendergast, southern region officer for the general trade union GMB, said that it had been calling for years for Surrey County Council to further support its care homes after figures in 2014 showed that the council was paying £326.45 per week for residents in care, the lowest amount in the country.

“Surrey residents are faced with Hobson’s choice,” Prendergast commented. “Money is tight in households but the care sector cannot survive unless more resources are put into it.”

The union said it would support its members seeking pay rises in order to afford the additional money the council is seeking for the care sector.

Gary Porter, chairman of the LGA, previously said that the government should treat social care as a “national priority” following the local government finance settlement last December in order to cover the sector’s £2.6bn funding gap over the next three years.

“There needs to be an urgent and fundamental review of social care and health before next year’s spring budget,” he said. “Local government leaders, who are responsible for social care in their local community, must be part of that review. This is imperative to get a long-term, sustainable solution to the social care crisis that the most vulnerable people in our society deserve.”

Commenting on the announcement, a DCLG spokesperson said that the government’s referendum cap has protected local residents from high council tax rises and hinted that it would do so again.

“If the council sets this proposed budget, then the taxpayers of Surrey will have the final say in a referendum in May. We should trust the people,” the spokesperson said.

(Image c. Surrey County Council News)

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