Council tax proposal is 'democracy dodging', claim critics

Surrey County Council’s proposed 1.99 per cent council tax increase has been labelled democracy dodging by critics.

Families could lose the equivalent of a pint of milk a week if council tax rises by the proposed amount, which is also 0.01 per cent under the benchmark that would trigger a local referendum.

Leader of Surrey County Council David Hodge said raising council tax to invest in schools, roads and care for the vulnerable was the only sensible option and would boost the economy and support local people at a critical time.

The council’s cabinet will meet on Tuesday, February 5, to consider the rise.

It is expected to reject the Government’s offer of a one-off payment in return for a council tax freeze, because it would lead to a “financial black hole” of more than £50m in five years.

Mr Hodge said: “Although this is a difficult decision in the current economic climate, people have consistently told us that roads, schools and care for the vulnerable are what matter to them most. That’s why we want to invest in them now.

“The Government has offered us a one-off grant if we freeze council tax. Accepting it would be the wrong decision for Surrey as it would cripple our finances for the future.

“The easy option as a politician would be to park the problem until after the election. But it would saddle Surrey with a financial time bomb that would go off in five years’ time. And that would be an irresponsible decision for us to recommend.”

A 1.99 per cent increase, just 0.01 per cent lower than would trigger a local referendum, would cost people living in a band D property an extra 44p a week, the equivalent of a pint of milk.

Elmbridge Council councillor Chris Sadler said: “I have looked carefully at what has happened with Elmbridge Council finances but there is not a good enough case for a rise in council tax in Elmbridge.

“Surrey County Council provides services which are expensive, such as adult social care and roads, and we want to maintain the good standard in all those areas.

“I think there will be a number of people a rise in council tax will hit hard. There are a lot of people whose salaries have been frozen and people on benefits.”

One Hersham resident, who asked not to be named, said: “There is not a need for a council tax rise when other authorities like Hammersmith and Fulham are reducing it.

“Tax payers get one bill and they see one bill, they don’t see that it’s divided between Elmbridge, Surrey and the police. Taxpayers see one massive rise.

“As far as I am concerned, they are democracy dodging.”

Councillor Roy Green said: “They could find some of the difference from cutting allowances from Surrey county councillors.

“I see no need for SCC to put taxes up. It is putting the council up against the Government and against Eric Pickles who is trying to keep expenses low.”

About £194m has been saved by the council in the past three years, but costs have risen by £201m due to increased demand for services.

In the same period, grants from the Government to the council have gone down by £48m, while the extra money brought in by council tax amounted to £37m.

The cabinet’s recommendation will go forward to a full council meeting on February 12, where a final decision will be taken.

Surrey County Council’s plan would allow them to invest an extra:

  • £250,000 in the Community Improvements Fund to help people enhance their local area -
  • £750,000 in 500 apprenticeships next year to give young people a helping hand onto the career ladder and provide employers with the skilled workforce to thrive

The council must also raise:

  • £10m in raising school standards over five years and provide the 12,000 extra school places
  • £11m in adult social care next year to help people care for their loved ones when more are needing support
  • £25m in roads over five years to give the local economy a boost when it needs it most

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