A BID to amend Surrey County Council’s 2024-25 budget to include a fund into which band H council tax payers can make contributions to help those in need has been defeated by 43 votes to 33.

The proposal was made by Residents’ Association and Independents Group leader Cllr Catherine Powell. It secured wide support from Liberal Democrat, Green, Residents’ Association and Independent councillors but no Conservatives voted for it.

Cllr Powell had called for a voluntary fund, potentially run by Community Foundation Surrey, to support charities to provide more preventative, early intervention and support services to the most vulnerable, including those with additional needs, children in schools in deprived areas, and older people living in poverty or in isolated rural areas.

She said these were the worst affected by Covid and the cost-of-living crisis.

A similar fund, the Voluntary Community Contribution Scheme, was set up by Westminster Council in 2018 and supported by band H council tax payers. It has now been extended to those in band G.

Cllr Catherine Powell
Cllr Catherine Powell (Photo supplied)

The fund raised more than £1 million in its first two years for the City of Westminster Charitable Trust. Projects supported include tackling rough sleeping, helping lonely people feel less isolated, and helping young people learn job skills.

Cllr Powell said: “This budget amendment aimed to bring in much needed revenue to support our most vulnerable residents. It would create an opportunity for those with disposable income who would like to donate to a fund that will support a range of charities to do this.

“These charities would focus on providing prevention, early intervention and support services to children and young people in particular. The fund would enable residents to contribute to charities they are not already aware of, in addition to the charities that they already support.

“We have over half a million households in Surrey, more than 200,000 of them in band F, G or H homes. If, and I understand it is a big if, every one of these households gave £10 to this fund an additional £2m would be raised.

“This is not about removing funding from any of the many wonderful charities that already do such good work in Surrey. This is about creating another opportunity for those that can afford to – and want to – pay into a fund to support charities providing preventative, early intervention and support services.”

The council’s 2024-25 budget was approved at a full council meeting on February 6. It includes more support for children with additional needs and disabilities, and greater investment in roads and buses.

Council leader Cllr Tim Oliver said: “We take our duty and responsibility to the people of Surrey extremely seriously. We are making decisions with our residents’ council tax – a significant proportion of people’s household budgets – and with it providing services they rely on every day to improve their lives and stay safe and well.

“Ensuring we do that responsibly – setting a balanced budget, focusing on the right priorities, ensuring our foundations are strong for the future and our services are sustainable – is one of the most important duties we have.

“This is a solid budget, in the face of unprecedented pressure and challenge faced by local government in this country. Surrey leads the way in responsible financial management.”

More than 70 per cent of the total revenue budget will be spent on caring for people with complex needs and disabilities, elderly people and children in care. Some £5m will be spent on preventative measures in children’s services.

Extra money announced by the government in its Local Government Finance Settlement has given Surrey another £11m, but cuts worth £53m have been made and council tax is going up by 4.99 per cent, the maximum allowed without a referendum.

Leigh Whitehouse will become interim chief executive on March 6 and Anna D’Alessandro will become chief finance officer.