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County Council Adult Care Tax Cut Seen as ‘Election Sweetener’

Published on: 11 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 12 Feb, 2021

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Although Surrey County Council (SCC) needs to find savings of nearly £12 million on adult social care they will not charge the full amount of council tax permitted by government this coming year.

The council says its restraint is down to a good financial position, and the need to help cash-strapped residents. But critics claim it may be a pre-election sweetener by the Conservative-led council, delaying “inevitable” increases.

“We have proposed a much smaller council tax increase than previous years, and in comparison to other areas,” said SCC leader Tim Oliver (Weybridge).

The council is making full use of a 1.99% increase in the basic council tax, but only a 0.5% increase in the part earmarked for adult social care rather than a possible 3%. The remainder can be carried over into next year.

The rise for 2021-22 will push the bill up by about £37 a year for an average band D property. The overall 2.49% increase is for the county council’s (lion’s) share of the council tax only, not other elements such as policing or boroughs/districts.

Cllr Tim Oliver

Cllr Oliver said: “Although any increase is unwelcome, that is half the 4.99% permitted by government and half the amount many neighbouring authorities will be levying.

“We’re holding it at 2.49% because we can afford to do that, but actually this is the year when we must do all we can to help our residents.

“Putting 5% on the council tax would just be wholly inequitable and unfair, so we have worked as hard as we possibly can to keep that down to the lowest level.”

For the past five years, the council has always levied the maximum permitted level of council tax.

Green Cllr Jonathan Essex (Redhill East) said that given the council’s projected shortfall of £178m by 2026, he felt hardship was being postponed until after this May’s council elections.

“No one wants to see big council tax rises at any time, particularly now as record numbers of our residents are finding themselves out of work,” he said.

“Yet without action it seems inevitable the lower council tax rise this year will be followed by higher increases in years to come. Was the decision to set a lower rate this year purely a political one just before local elections?

“It will only mean Surrey residents will be hit by much larger increases next year, when the full economic fallout of the pandemic is being felt.”

The flexibility to increase the adult social care precept by the remaining 2.5% is carried forward, so it could be applied the following year if needed, said Cllr Becky Rush (Con, Warlingham), incoming cabinet member for resources.

At that point, “a decision would be carefully determined taking Surrey County Council’s financial position, future identified pressures, and burden on residents into account”.

She said keeping it lower in 2021-22 was necessary to “minimise increases for residents”.

Cllr Sinead Mooney (Con, Staines), cabinet member for adult social care, said they would continue to provide a good service against the increasing pressures of demand.

Cllr Rush added: “Government typically assumes councils will increase council tax by the maximum allowable.”

She agreed to write to the Health and Social Care Secretary to lobby for a long-term solution for the social care funding crisis.

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