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Government 'offered sweetheart deal' to council to stop vote on care funding

Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Government of arranging a "sweetheart deal" with a Tory-led council to stop a controversial council tax referendum.

The Labour leader questioned how much the Government had offered to Surrey County Council to "kill this off" and pressed Theresa May to explain if the same deal would be available to every local authority facing the "social care crisis".

The Prime Minister claimed Mr Corbyn was using "alternative facts".

Surrey has abandoned its plans f or a 15% hike in council tax to address the crisis in social care funding, adding it will instead "take a risk" that ministers will find a solution.

Labour MPs could be heard shouting "we want to hear more about Surrey" as Mrs May struggled to answer Mr Corbyn's questions.

Surrey council leader David Hodge said on Tuesday that he would instead seek a 4.99% rise in council tax although warned that unless there was progress on funding the situation would become "untenable and intolerable".

The planned 15% rise risked embarrassing Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Chancellor Philip Hammond, who both have constituencies in Surrey.

Mr Corbyn, speaking during Prime Minister's Questions, raised problems affecting health services in Liverpool and the difficulties for officials in meeting the Government.

He questioned Mrs May if a "special deal" was done for Surrey before telling MPs he had seen "leaked copies of texts" sent by Mr Hodge "intended for somebody called Nick" who works for ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Mr Corbyn said: "These texts read, 'I'm advised that DCLG officials have been working on a solution and you will be contacting me to agree a memorandum of understanding'.

"Will the Government now publish this memorandum of understanding and, while they're about it, will all councils be offered the same deal?"

Mrs May replied: "What we have given all councils is the opportunity to raise a 3% precept on the council tax for that to go into social care."

She added: "W hat the Labour Party fails to understand is that this is not just a question of looking at money, it is a question of looking at spreading best practice and finding a sustainable solution."

Mr Corbyn went on to describe a second text message.

He said : "I wonder if it's anything to do with the fact that the Chancellor and Health Secretary both represent Surrey constituencies.

"But there was a second text from the Surrey County Council leader to Nick - and in the second text it says 'The numbers you indicated are the numbers 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 goes on to say in his text to Nick 'If it is possible 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 (Mrs May's) Government?"

Mrs May said she had made clear to Mr Corbyn that every council has the opportunity to raise the precept.

Speaker John Bercow intervened as he was again forced to calm MPs in the chamber.

Mrs May then said of Mr Corbyn: "He comes to the despatch box making all sorts of claims.

"Yet again what we get from Labour is alternative facts; what they really need is an alternative leader."

Mr Corbyn repeated his question about what had been offered to Surrey and whether this would be available to other local authorities.

He urged Mrs May to "come clean" and provide councils with the cash they need to fund social care "properly".

Mrs May replied: "The deal that is on offer to all councils is the one I've already set out."

She questioned Labour's approach to public spending, claiming the Opposition would end up " bankrupting Britain".

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