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Tory authority plans 15% council tax rise claiming huge budget gap after cuts

A Tory-controlled local authority plans to raise council tax by 15%, claiming it has no choice in response to funding cuts and the crisis in social care.

Surrey County Council said it had a huge gap in its budget as a result of cuts from Westminster.

The council, which includes the constituencies of both Chancellor Philip Hammond and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, will need the approval of local voters in a referendum to implement the hike.

Surrey County 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 £170 million since 2010 - leaving a huge gap in our budget.

"Demand for adult social care, learning disabilities and children's services is increasing every year.

"So I regret, despite us finding £450 million worth of savings from our annual budget, we have no choice but to propose this increase in council tax."

The move will add almost £200 to average Band D council tax bills in the county.

Since the 2012/13 financial year, local authorities have been required to hold a referendum if they want to increase council tax beyond a Whitehall-imposed threshold.

For councils with responsibilities for social care, that threshold is set at 5% - far below the increase sought by Surrey.

The proposed referendum would take place on May 4, alongside the local elections.

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."

Tory MP for Reigate Crispin Blunt said the authority was in a "very difficult situation" and councillors faced an "unenviable choice" between increasing taxes and cutting services.

He said: "The Conservative county council has decided to raise extra funding through a referendum.

"That is a decision county councillors are elected to take and, as a fellow Conservative, I will support their collective judgement, knowing they have found the prospect of raising taxes deeply unwelcome."

Surrey's move could be followed by other authorities who face pressures on their budgets.

Claire Kober, chairwoman of the Local Government Association's resources board, said: "After years of striving to keep council tax as low as possible or frozen, many town halls have found themselves having to ask residents to pay more council tax over the next few years, particularly to try and offset some of the spiralling costs of social care.

"Services supporting the elderly and disabled are at breaking point.

"It cannot be left to council taxpayers alone to try and fix them.

"Only genuinely new additional government funding for social care will give councils any chance of protecting the services caring for our elderly and disabled."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News: "I t'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. It's a central government responsibility and central government should face face up to its responsibility."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb 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.

"The Government simply cannot continue to pass the buck on to local authorities."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Councils have been given extended freedoms to decide how best they spend their tax revenues to best serve their local communities.

"At the end of the day, this is a referendum for the local residents of Surrey on whether they want to accept the proposition of a 15% rise in council tax that has been put to them. We will wait to see what the voters of Surrey decide. This is an issue for Surrey Council and the residents of Surrey."

The spokesman added: "Additional funding is going into social care. We recognise that there have been problems around it. That's why councils have been allowed to increase the social care precept and the Communities Secretary announced before the end of the year additional funding that would be made available.

"But this isn't just an issue of money alone. Clearly we need a longer-term solution to solve the situation around social care. We need to make sure that councils are learning from best practice. Around half of all delayed discharges at the end of last year were among 24 authorities, and there are areas where we are seeing next to no discharges delayed because of a lack of social care."

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