Surrey Council is to hold a referendum on raising council tax by 15% to tackle social care crisis
Residents in the Conservative-controlled borough are to be asked if they are willing to pay a typical charge of £200 a year more to plug a funding gap of £170m since 2010 as a result of budget cuts from Westminster.
The council, which includes the constituencies of both Chancellor Philip Hammond and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, will need the approval of local voters to implement the hike.
But today critics condemned the proposal.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “SCC should hang their heads in shame. Council Tax is a huge burden on hard-pressed families, and yet the council rarely misses an opportunity to raise it even further.
Council Tax is a huge burden on hard-pressed families, and yet the council rarely misses an opportunity to raise it even further
John O’Connell – TaxPayers’ Alliance
“Surrey residents will have seen their council tax go up by around 85 per cent in the last two decades and have every right to feel that their local representatives have let them down once again.
“Social care is a long term challenge facing every part of the country, and there needs to be a policy response from central government.
"In the meantime, councils should be making the most of their resources and this is clear evidence that some are better at doing this than others.”
Surrey County Council has a funding gap of £170m since 2010
UKIP spokesman on local government, Cllr Peter Reeve MBE said: “Even if the move is rejected by residents, the cost of the referenda will have to be paid by the Surrey council tax payer, which could be up to £1m.
“Playing games with Council Tax in order to prove a point to Cllr Hodges’ Tory party political masters at local tax payers expense is not the way to pay for social care.
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“Rather than devastating household budgets with huge council tax rises that will hit hard working residents, the Council would be better to come out in support of UKIP’s policy to move money out of the £12.2bn foreign aid budget into UK social care.
“The foreign aid budget can be reduced to £3bn without impacting the most essential elements of foreign aid like water, inoculation and disaster relief, those aspects which people think of when the term foreign aid is used.”
If residents vote for the move, almost £200 will be added to average B and D council tax bills in the county.
Since the 2012/13 financial year, local authorities have been required to hold a referendum if they want to increase council tax beyond a Whitehall-imposed threshold.
For councils with responsibilities for social care that threshold is set at five per cent – far below the increase sought by Surrey.
‘Demand for adult social care is increasing every year’, says SCC leader David Hodge
SCC leader David Hodge said: “Government has cut our annual grant by £170 million since 2010 – leaving a huge gap in our budget.
“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’s move could be followed by other authorities who face pressures on their budgets.
Claire Kober, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s resources board, said: “After years of striving to keep council tax as low as possible or frozen, many town halls have found themselves having to ask residents to pay more council tax over the next few years, particularly to try and offset some of the spiralling costs of social care.
“Services supporting the elderly and disabled are at breaking point, but it cannot be left to council taxpayers alone to try and fix them.
“Only genuinely new additional government funding for social care will give councils any chance of protecting the services caring for our elderly and disabled.”
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The proposed referendum would take place on May 4, alongside the local elections.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “This Government has announced almost £900m of additional funding to tackle pressures on social care over the next two years.
“But money alone is not the solution and we are clear that we need to find a long-term sustainable solution, including making sure all councils learn from the best performers to raise standards across the whole system.”