POLITICS

Tory Council Plans 15% Tax Rise To Combat Theresa May's Social Care Crisis

Proof of the cash pressures on town halls

19/01/2017 12:43 GMT | Updated 19/01/2017 18:59 GMT

Jeremy Corbyn has hit out after a Tory council proposed a 15% council tax rise in a bid to plug huge gaps in its funding for elderly people’s care.

Surrey County Council formally tabled the plan on Thursday as it slammed the Government for slashing its grant by £170m since 2010.

The move, which will need to be endorsed by a referendum of residents, comes just weeks after Theresa May claimed she was tackling the social care crisis.

Corbyn said: “It’s not right that we should thrust the social care crisis on local authorities.

“It’s a central government responsibility and central government should face up to its responsibilities.”

The decision by the Tory council is all the more embarrassing to the Government as both Chancellor Philip Hammond and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt have their constituencies in Surrey. 

If voters approve the plan, an average “band D” home in the rock solid Tory county would see a hike of £190.24 a year.

With high house prices, many more homes are valued in higher property value brackets and face rises of more than £300 a year.

Surrey County Council
Surrey County Council

Conservative council leader David Hodge said: “We have to set a budget that will protect vital services for Surrey residents.

“Government has cut our annual grant by £170m since 2010 - leaving a huge gap in our budget. 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.”

A senior Tory town halls chief told HuffPost UK this month that the Treasury should “grow up” and give councils the funds they needed to help provide essential care to old people in their own homes.

The Local Government Association last year revealed councils had to contend with a £5billion funding gap for adult social care between 2011/12 and 2015/16 as result of a 40% reduction in funds handed over by central government.

Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Chancellor Philip Hammond, whose constituency is in Surrey

May was accused of failing to act on the crisis, which is also having a huge knock-on effect on the NHS, after she failed to pledge the funds critics demanded last month.

Hammond offered no extra cash for social care in his autumn statement in November.

Downing Street then hastily announced that councils would be able to bring forward council tax hikes to meet local needs, as long as they won approval with a referendum.

More than £900m extra was promised in the form of a New Homes Bonus and other money, but many Tory town halls made clear to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid that the offer way below what was needed.

Matt Crossick/Matt Crossick
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid

Local Labour councillor Robert Evans said that council tax is an unfair and unbalanced levy, which hits the poorest hardest.

“But the real issue is the complacency and incompetence in the way they have run the council. Presumably, they even think Surrey people will back them in a referendum. I think not.

“We have a Conservative government and a Conservative county council. Surrey has eleven Tory MPs one of whom is Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and yet they still can’t balance the books. It’s a disgrace.”

Councils can only increase taxes by an extra 3.99% a year without a referendum.

Other hard-pressed councils may follow Surrey’s lead. Liverpool City Council is proposing a 10% rise, claiming government funding cuts mean it will not be able to fund adult social care or children’s services without raising more money.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “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 £3.2 billion to deliver the services that local people want.”