Surrey council tax: Opposition parties slam ‘unfair’ and ‘unsustainable’ budget set to hit ‘poorest people hardest’

February 13, 2018
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The country’s spotlight has been shining on Surrey’s finances this past week.

An overwhelming majority of Surrey County Councillors voted in favour of the 5.99% council tax rise on Tuesday (February 6).

The figure represents the biggest hike in Surrey in almost two decades .

Surrey County Council’s (SCC) proposed budget, including cuts of more than £25 million from services supporting children, education and families was also given the go ahead.

But not all politicians sitting at County Hall agreed with the Conservative majority.

Prompted by national media surrounding local councils’ financial struggles, Surrey’s opposition parties have voiced concerns over SCC’s diminishing ability to “balance the books”.

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Robert Evans, Labour Party

“All forms of government benefit from a strong opposition holding them to account”
(Image: TMS)

Councillor Robert Evans is the only SCC Labour Party representative.

He said: “SCC argues for more money to pay for the ever-increasing adults social care bill, but in a civilised country, this must come from central government paid for from income tax.

“Adult social care is an important aspect of SCC’s responsibility, but to try to fund it from council tax is unrealistic and unsustainable.

“Council tax is a manifestly unfair tax which hits the poorest people hardest and takes no account of people’s ability to pay.”

Cllr Evans argued that the “expensive and inefficient” two-tier system of local government should be readdressed in order to save essential funds.

He said: “In Surrey, we have eleven borough and districts, each with a costly administration, council offices, a town hall, a chief executive and councillors.

“If you add on Surrey itself and County Hall, it means there are twelve chief executives, dozens of deputies and over 600 councillors – quite apart from parish councils.”

Nick Harrison, Residents’ Association

Nick Harrison, leader of Surrey’s Residents’ Association
(Image: Surrey County Council)

All nine SCC members of the Residents’ Association either abstained or voted against the proposed budget last Tuesday.

Following media coverage of Northamptonshire County Council’s financial crisis, the group’s leader, Councillor Nick Harrison, said SCC needs to balance its books to avoid a downward spiral.

He said: “Councils are straining to make cuts, to improve their efficiency, deal with reduced national funding and if all else fails, to use reserves.

“Eventually, the books just won’t balance. Somebody had to get there first and last weekend Northamptonshire declared it was in ‘special measures’.

“Surrey faces similar challenges.”

He added: “Increasingly the cuts are being noticed by our residents as they impact the services we all use – turning out street lights, reducing spending on roads and charges and reduced hours at the recycling centre.”

Jonathan Essex, Green Party

Green Party county councillor, Jonathan Essex
(Image: Surrey Greens)

Speaking at the meeting last Tuesday, SCC’s only Green Party councillor, Jonathan Essex, also voiced concerns amid Northamptonshire’s financial crisis.

He said: “It’s not just Surrey being squeezed, we have heard of Northamptonshire. There is no point complaining just about our share but we need to make the cake bigger.”

He said the budget is “not sustainable enough to deliver us into the future and it lacks a long term plan that invests to make Surrey sustainable, socially and environmentally in going forward”.

“We should not use austerity as an excuse for not having a long term plan locally,” he added.

“No details on the scale of front line staffing cuts has been shared and no equality impact assessment…

“There is more information this year in the budget, yes, but why not tell us these details? What will these cuts mean for our residents?

“This budget shows that even with significant budget service cuts, we still only have a budget balance with selling property and borrowing on our reserves.”

Hazel Watson, Liberal Democrats

Cllr Hazel Watson standing on the pathway that is to be sold
(Image: Grant Melton)

Standing up in County Hall, Cllr Hazel Watson, leader of Surrey’s Liberal Democrats , said: “It is a failure by central government to provide adequate funding and a failure of the Conservative administration to get a grip of the financial crisis.

“Adequate social care requires extra funding, funding which the leader of the council has failed to deliver.

“This budget is a bad deal for Surrey residents who are being asked to pay more for less.”

Ahead of the approval, she said: “This budget contains drastic cuts to services such as libraries, road maintenance, services for children and families as well as cuts to support for people with learning disabilities.

“They come on top of the unpopular cuts which have already been made to services including highways, community recycling centres and support to vulnerable people.”

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Article source: https://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/surrey-council-tax-opposition-parties-14279490


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