Surrey Council Tax U-turn
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In January the Conservative leadership at Surrey County Council announced that they would increase council tax by 14.99%. Although SCC’s grant settlement from the Government had been very poor, the fact that Surrey residents were to pay heavily to resolve the funding crisis was seen by most people to be unfair and unacceptable.
Surrey Council Tax U-turn in chaotic meeting
In the end, and at a chaotic Budget meeting on February 7th, which was delayed three times whilst the Leader of the Council sorted out what he wanted to say, the Conservatives backed down. Instead going for a council tax increase of 4.99%. It was a council tax rise and a budget which could have been prepared and announced much earlier. Instead what we now have is a rushed proposal, with no detailed plans. Resident Association County Councillors did not vote to endorse the increase because the details of where cuts and service changes will take place will not be decided and announced by the Cabinet until late March. Some seven weeks after the increase was agreed. That is not an open and transparent way to manage and spend public money.
No additional money from government
Why the Conservatives changed their mind is a matter of debate. All indications were that a referendum, which would have been required to endorse the 14.99%, would have been expensive and produce a NO vote. One theory in the national press was that the Government, late in the day, promised SCC some additional funding in the future. However that behind the scenes “deal” had been talked about for some time, and the fact remains that is there is no additional money from the Government to support the Council’s services in 2017/2018.
RA solutions rejected year after year
Residents Association councillors have long challenged financial inefficiencies and waste at SCC. Not least at budget time. But year after year the majority group have rejected the savings proposals we have made. For example:
- Cutting the cost of agency staff
- Reviewing the council’s management structure to save the costs of some of high salary posts
- Ending the waste of empty council care beds costing over £1.5 million a year
- And, of course, two years ago the Conservatives raised their allowances by over 60%
This year’s budget setting process has been chaotic. We can only hope now that SCC will start tackling the inefficiencies and wasteful spending that still remain.