Fringe Box



Tories Concealed Financial Report, Say County Council Lib Dems

Published on: 23 Mar, 2017
Updated on: 27 Mar, 2017

County Hall, Kingston upon Thames

Conservative-run Surrey County Council (SCC) failed to release a financial report which warned in December 2016 that a 15% council tax referendum was “highly likely to fail”.

The report, produced by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA), cost nearly £25,000 and was commissioned in December but was only released to councillors yesterday (March 21, 2017) six weeks after the county council’s budget meeting, following a question raised by Cllr Hazel Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats at SCC.

The report states: “In CIPFA’s view a referendum is highly likely to fail,” and goes on to note that the council’s financial position is “extremely worrying” that there was an “absence of a credible cost-reduction plan”, and that, “The council’s financial plans are not robust and it is at risk of becoming financially unsustainable.”

It concluded that the council’s finances were: “dependent on winning a referendum process…, “high levels of unidentified savings…” and could result in, “Rapidly reducing reserves… viewed as an indicator of poor financial resilience…”.

Cllr Keith Witham

But Cllr Keith Witham (Conservative Worplesdon) defended the council’s position. He said: “What the CIPFA report and officials found was that all the information supplied to the government was accurate, having been checked independently. As usual the Liberals want to misrepresent that.”

“The Guardian was told by CIPFA in January: ‘We confirm that due to severe problems in social care, Surrey’s figures are exactly as their financial officers say. David Hodge deserves huge thanks from all local government for his bravery in telling the truth about council finances.'”

Responding to the Lib Dem complaint about the delay in publishing the report, Cllr Witham said: “These things take time to compile, prepared and checked. Clearly the timescale was not to the liberals liking.”

Cllr Hazel Watson

Cllr Watson, opposition leader at SCC, said: “This report should have been made available to all councillors in December 2016 – it is an absolute scandal that it was not.

“Instead, the Conservative-administration buried it as part of their failed 15% council tax strategy, which they were forced to drop after a concerted campaign by Liberal Democrat councillors and Surrey residents.

“The information contained in the report is damning – there are strong criticisms of the council’s poor financial position, declining reserves and unidentified savings which all councillors had a right to know about before voting on the council’s Budget in February.

“This is why the leader of the council should resign, he simply cannot be trusted to be open and transparent when it comes to the finances of Surrey County Council and the sharing of information with elected councillors. He should do the decent thing and go.”

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