Funding cuts could cause council tax to rise by 18 per cent

Monday 19th December 2016 4:38 pm
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HASLEMERE residents were warned they could face an 18 per cent hike in council tax next year, after Surrey County Council admitted it “simply can’t cope” with the scale of funding cuts, this week.

In a potential political tipping point, the Tory-led administration condemned the failure of Chancellor Philip Hammond to provide any additional cash for social care in the Surrey MP’s first Autumn Statement.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for an injection of £2.6billion to get the adult care system in England through to 2020 – half to meet immediate pressures and stabilise the sector, half to meet rising demand, inflation and the costs of the ‘national living wage’.

Crossing the political divide, Surrey leader David Hodge, who heads the LGA’s Conservative Group, penned a joint letter calling for urgent action with the LGA leaders of the other three political groups.

“The social care crisis is real and it is happening right now,” the LGA leaders wrote.

“The Government cannot ignore it any longer if we are to truly have a society that works for everyone.”

Mr Hodge delivered a further veiled attack on Government when he told Surrey’s decision-making Cabinet on Tuesday: “We have always been true to the Conservative government and our residents and we have made our financial position very clear to our 11 MPs: Without extra support we face difficult decisions to make sure we are able to deliver our statutory responsibilities and the services we are required by law to provide.”

Revealing the extent of the funding problem Surrey faces in a statement to council, Mr Hodge revealed the NHS transferred 860 adults with severe learning disabilities into the council’s care in 2011 – the largest transfer in the country – but the Government had now effectively withdrawn its dedicated £69million annual grant by rolling it into its overall grant, despite an estimated 36 per cent increase in the care packages needed by April 2017.

Mr Hodge added: “We have reached the point where demand is so high that learning disabilities is actually the largest area of adult social care spend for this council,” he said.“Even higher than our spend on older people.”

Also calling on Government to take action, Surrey’s cabinet member for adult social care, Mel Few, said: “The Care Quality Commission is not the only organisation with worries about inadequate adult social care funding and the impact on already clogged-up hospitals.

“In Surrey the extra £24million the county council needs to spend on rising demand is stretching finances to the limit.

“The county’s latest population growth data suggests rising numbers of over-65s in the next two decades will add a further £59million to the authority’s bill for care for the elderly and disabled.

“While the two per cent council tax precept introduced nationally earlier this year was a welcome move, it falls many millions of pounds short of what is needed now – let alone in two decades.

“Should the Government contemplate using the precept to cover the gap, it would need to think about whether it is content to allow Surrey taxpayers to carry so large a burden for local services when they pay more income tax to the national exchequer than any other region outside London.”

Also objecting that Surrey residents were being treated unfairly, Haslemere’s Independent county councillor Nikki Barton highlighted the knock-on effects cuts in funding had already had on her hometown.

“Surrey is at breaking point,” she said. “The impact of the Government’s austerity squeeze on Surrey has meant the Conservative council cannot balance its budget. We have been forced to cut our cloth, but now the shirt is being taken off our backs.

“In Haslemere, we have felt the discomfort of cutting our youth worker, our Saturday dust carts, our bus services and our library opening hours. Many roads will be in darkness soon when the midnight street light switch-off starts and there are cuts in highway budgets to come.

“In spite of the pleas of Surrey’s Tory leadership, No. 10 continues to treat Surrey unfairly.

“The weak and vulnerable are paying the price for being Surrey residents, while Theresa May’s government seems to think they are content to pay higher council taxes and receive fewer services.

“Last year, the council had to increase council tax by an extra two per cent to help fund adult social care, raising £12million.

“This was a drop in the ocean, given annual costs for that care are more than £360million. Next year, an increase of 18 per cent will be needed to keep these essential services.

“I support David Hodge in his demand that central government stop tightening the vice on Surrey – and that it ensures we have sufficient means to meet the increasing demands of our naturally ageing population and of the new social care duties placed on the local authority by central government.

“There is unacceptable conflict between the basic needs of Surrey, on the one hand, and the position and policies of our 11 Conservative MPs, including the current Chancellor Philip Hammond and Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, on the other hand.

“This gives me grave concerns about Hammond’s or Hunt’s political commitment to fight for Surrey’s needs in Westminster.”

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