Surrey council calls referendum on 15% council tax hike
Conservative-run Surrey council has called a referendum on whether to raise council tax by 15% to fund social care.
Labour has seized on the news to demand central government do more to address the pressure on social care budgets.
Jeremy Corbyn said the Government should “face up to its responsibility” on social care.
The decision is embarrassing for the Government because constituencies represented by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Chancellor Philip Hammond fall within the area administrated by the council.
The referendum will be held on 4 May, the same day as county council elections across the country.
Councils are required to hold a referendum if they intend to increase council tax by more than 5%.
David Hodge, the Conservative leader of Surrey County Council, said he had “no option” but to propose the 15% hike.
“Government has cut our annual grant by £170m since 2010 - leaving a huge gap in our budget,” he said.
“Demand for adults 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.”
Mr Corbyn argued the decision reflected the budget pressures faced by councils across the UK.
“It’s not right that we should thrust the social care crisis on local authorities, all of whom have different levels of income all over the country,” the Labour leader told Sky.
“It’s a central government responsibility and the central government should face up to its responsibility.”
Teresa Pearce, the Shadow Communities Secretary, said local authorities were in a “desperate situation” and the Government had “no fresh ideas” on how to resolve the situation.
“Forcing councils to rely on council tax income to fund statutory services, such as social care, is simply unsustainable and unrealistic,” she added.
“Council tax will not plug the growing funding gap in the long-term, and it will create a postcode lottery in services, leaving the poorest councils struggling to get by.
“The Government needs to come forward with urgent funding to address the immediate crisis as well as a sustainable and strategic vision for the future of social care. So far, they have done neither. It is elderly, disabled and sick people who are paying the price for their failure this winter.”
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman and former care minister, said: "The social care crisis has reached the Health Secretary’s own back yard. The onus is now on him to tell the Prime Minister that enough is enough...
“When Conservative ministers are being told by their own council leaders that vital services are struggling to cope with funding cuts, it would be extraordinary for them not to take notice."
'WE SHOULD TRUST THE PEOPLE'
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “The Government has protected local residents from high council tax rises by allowing local people to veto them through a council tax referendum.
“If the council sets this proposed budget, then the taxpayers of Surrey will have the final say in a referendum in May. We should trust the people.
“Our long-term funding settlement means more spending power for Surrey County Council during this parliament, with £3.2bn to deliver the services that local people want.
“This Government has also announced almost £900m of additional funding to tackle pressures on social care over the next two years. But money alone is not the solution.
“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.”
In December, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced that the threshold for a referendum would rise from 4% to 5% in order to allow councils to boost funding for social care.