Fringe Box



New County Council Leader Blames Past Inaction for Budgetary Woes

Published on: 6 Feb, 2019
Updated on: 5 Feb, 2019

By Rebecca Curley

local democracy reporter

Not enough has been done in the past to make Surrey County Council’s finances sustainable, according to the local authority’s new leader.

That was the “truth” laid out by Cllr Tim Oliver who listed the extent of financial problems the council has been facing over the years.

Careful not to lay blame with former leaders and bosses present, Cllr Oliver, who has been leader for eight weeks, said SCC had used £80 million from its reserves since 2014 to supplement its budget: they had been left with “no choice” but to raise the council tax by 2.99%.

SCC’s leader, chief executive and finance director have all been appointed or voted in since last year’s budget with a number of other directors and heads of services recruited in the past year.

Cllr Tim Oliver (left) was careful to avoid criticism of former leader David Hodge (right)

Cllr Oliver said £106 million of savings had already been made over the past couple of years for the transformation programme and said he “recognised the widespread” concern around plans to close 31 children centres across Surrey.

In his speech to the council chamber at County Hall on Tuesday (February 5), where the budget and council tax rise for 2019/20 was approved,  Cllr Oliver said: “In truth, we have not done enough in the past to ensure our finances are sustainable and this is now a major piece of work. But I am determined we will put this council’s finances on a solid footing as quickly as possible.”

He said they will not have to rely on reserves next year but did say the decision to increase council tax, which will generate £680.1 million in funding, was not one any member had “any pleasure in making,” and continued, “It gives neither me or anyone any pleasure in making this recommendation. Particularly as Surrey residents pay some of the highest council tax in the country.”

The rise means an extra 81p a week for a Band D property with the total bill rising to £1,453.50. The adult social care precept will remain at £102.39.

The total revenue budget for Surrey will be £885.9 million.

Cllr Oliver said he was “disappointed” that Surrey had not been chosen to take part in the second year of a pilot scheme around business rates retention.

He was “hopeful” the budget being laid out would “limit increases” in the future but said they needed to “radically redesign” the way they deliver services and continued: “I know there has been widespread concern about the children centres, but the truth is that the proposals approved will help us better target the support to the most vulnerable and those most in need.”

At the meeting on Tuesday (February 5, 2019), 54 voted to approve the budget and council tax rise, with 17 voting against and three abstaining.

As well as reducing the number of children centres, the council will be limiting use of disabled bus passes and has decided to put off plans to close four recycling centres until after review of their use is carried out.

The future of libraries will go out for further consultation and a SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) strategy will be drawn up.

County Cllr Chris Botten

Speaking out against the cuts and tax rise, Cllr Chris Botten, Lib Dem leader, said some cuts were “unnecessary” and that they were unsure of what the impact on residents would be.

He said: “While it is hard to know how the impacts could have been made known to us, the cuts required are deeper and more wide-ranging as a result of the council’s failure to address the deep-rooted problems which have been identified over the last five years, at least. The council’s complacency, it’s wishful thinking, it’s banking on a chimerical bail-out, and failure to address the treasury management and property portfolio comes back to haunt us and make life so much harder.”

He said it was “baffling” that services were being cut but that £2.5 million was being spent on interim management staff.

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