Jeremy Corbyn accuses Theresa May of social care ‘sweetheart deal’ with Surrey Council
Jeremy Corbyn has accused ministers of striking a “sweetheart deal” with Surrey County Council to ensure it ditched its plan to hike council tax by 15%.
Mr Corbyn cited leaked texts that claimed officials were preparing a “memorandum of understanding” to prevent a referendum taking place on the proposed tax increase to help fund social care.
Labour is now demanding an inquiry and that all correspondence between Surrey County Council and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) be published.
Theresa May accused the Labour leader of producing “alternative facts”, and insisted that the Government has granted every council the same means for raising funds for social care.
David Hodge, Conservative leader of Surrey council, announced yesterday that rates are set to rise by almost 5% after gaining assurances that ministers understand that the “methodology for funding councils is flawed”.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Corbyn referred to two leaked texts he had received apparently sent by Mr Hodge to an adviser in the Department for Communities and Local Government named only as 'Nick'.
“And these texts read ‘I’m advised that DCLG officials have been working on a solution and you will be contacting me to agree and memorandum of understanding’,” he continued.
“Will the Government now publish this memorandum of understanding and, while they’re about it, will all councils be offered the same deal?”
Theresa May responded: “What we have given all councils is the opportunity to raise the 3% precept on the council tax for that to go into social care.”
But Mr Corbyn cited a second exchange between Nick and Mr Hodge which read ‘the numbers you indicated are the numbers that I understand are acceptable for me to accept and call off the R’.
“Now I’ve been reading a bit of John Le Carre and apparently R means referendum. It’s very subtle, all this,” he joked.
“He goes on to say in his text to Nick, ‘if it is possible for that info to be sent to myself, I can then revert back soonest. Really want to kill this off’.
"So, how much did the Government offer Surrey to kill this off and is the same sweetheart deal on offer to every council facing the social care crisis created by her government?”
Mrs May insisted that the decision as to whether or not to hold a referendum in Surrey is “entirely” a matter for the local authority.
"I've made clear to the Right Honourable Gentleman what has been made available to every council, which is the ability to raise the precept,” the Prime Minister replied.
“And I have to say to him he comes to the despatch box making all sorts of claims, yet again what we get from Labour are alternative facts. What they really need is an alternative leader."
A spokesman for the Prime Minister insisted no special arrangement had been reached.
"I can assure you there is no sweetheart deal. There is dialogue between DCLG and all councils. It happens on an annual basis, but there is no deal," he said.
A Downing St source added: "The suggestion that there was extra money offered to call off the referendum is not the case."
Mr Hodge also insisted that the decision not to proceed with a 15% council tax increase was Surrey County Council's alone, and insisted there has been "no deal" with ministers.
"However, I am confident that the Government now understands the real pressures in adult social care and the need for a lasting solution," he said.