No sooner had I drafted an article on the imminent rise in Council Tax and the referendum we were promised on it, than the threat of the 15% rise was lifted. Strange times! Surrey County Council faces losing another £93m funding. I am told the now agreed rise of 4.99% will only raise £30m which is not even the bare minimum needed to cover costs in 2017/18.
So what of this U-turn? It seems the government was keen for the referendum NOT to go ahead. It has been suggested that Surrey County Council was testing the water when it decided a 15% rise was needed. What it has achieved in doing so is to raise the awareness of the vast pressure on Adult Social Care across the UK. There have been plenty of headlines about it since the issue of the council tax referendum was raised.
So where does the money come from to fund the county’s needs? There are two sources; 1) Government funding to all councils, some getting a much bigger slice than others and 2) Council Tax. Even the business rates levied are not all going into the coffers of Surrey. In fact they only retain 7% and the rest returns to central government.
The government is cutting contributions to all councils, and that leaves only the council tax to play with. The fact is that the population of our county is changing and the strain on resources has never been greater. The demand for social care is increasing by 6% a year and is set to increase as the population ages. By 2039 30% of the borough of Spelthorne will be over 64. You can do the maths yourself. It is not a sustainable situation.
There have been talks within the council since the start of 2016 so the announcement of a rise of 15% was not a surprise for many. The finances of the council have been under scrutiny and have been independently audited. The answer is consistently that there is no money. The party line is also now that there was no deal done with the government, no sweetheart deal or handshakes. So how can we understand the reassurance that it will “all be OK”?
Surrey have now put together a ‘Sustainability Committee’ which has already met and is putting together a budget which will outline where savings can be made. One thing is for sure, it will not be in Adult Social Care, which is seen as essential. The fact is that cuts in resources will affect us all. Cuts will come in the form of road repairs being cancelled, libraries will shut, waste collection and recycling etc. A cut in street lighting hours is only the start.