Surrey approves 15% council tax rise ahead of referendum

SURREY County Council's cabinet has approved a 15 per cent rise in council tax ahead of a public referendum on the move.

Council leader David Hodge announced the plan last month, saying that despite making savings of £450m, cuts to central government funding worth £170m since 2010 mean there is a "huge gap" in funding at a time when demand for social care is on the rise.

According to the council, two-thirds of its spending goes on services relating to the wellbeing of adults and children. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of older people needing the highest level of care increased by more than 50 per cent, with costs rising by £9m.

The proposed increase breaks down as a 1.99 per cent rise in general council tax, plus 10 per cent "as a result of mainly social care pressures". An additional three per cent will be added for the social care precept, which would raise £18m.  

This would increase the bill for a Band D property by around £200 to £1,458.45.

The full council is expected to approve the planned rise when it votes on the draft budget next week.

If it does, a public referendum will take place on 4 May. The council said the referendum will cost up to £300,000. It would cost another £630,000 to issue residents with new bills if the proposal is rejected.

A substitute budget would come into effect if the council loses the referendum, which would see council tax increase by 4.99 per cent - the maximum allowed without the need for a public vote.

With the 15 per cent rise, the council will still make cuts of £93m in 2017-18.

Under the alternative budget, it said, there would have to be further cuts of £30m in 2017-18, rising to £73m in 2019-20.

"Because a referendum on the proposed council tax would not happen until 4 May 2017, the council would lose time beginning the extra work to achieve the additional £30m service reductions it would need to find within 2017-18," the council said.

"Given the late start, the requirement for consultation and equalities assessments, and time to agree plan and implement the service reduction measures, the time available to put actions in place and see the effects of the additional service reductions could be less than six months."

Cllr Hazel Watson, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group, said: "The Conservative administration at County Hall is asking Surrey residents to pay more for less - an unreasonable and unaffordable 15 per cent council tax increase and £93m of unspecified cuts in council services. 

"It is time for the Tories at County Hall to end their secrecy and to spill the beans about the £93 million of cuts which are coming down the pipeline. Councillors who have to vote on the County Council budget next week and Surrey residents who pay council tax and are served by the County Council should not be kept in the dark and have a right to know now about the cuts which are on the way."