Zöe Franklin: 15% Council Tax Hike Scrapped

February 7, 2017 10:45 PM
By Zöe Franklin

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Today (Tuesday 7th February) we heard the news that the proposed 15% council tax rise has been scrapped.

This happened dramatically at the Surrey County Council budget meeting today where the Conservatives u-turned on their proposal to hold a referendum on increasing council tax by 15% after more than 3,000 people signed a Liberal Democrat petition against the increase. Instead council tax will be increased by 4.99%.

I'd like to thank everyone who signed the petition and everyone who filled in our survey on the proposed council tax increase to let us know what they thought about the issue.

I understand that many people were concerned about protecting public services and felt that the proposed increase was a price worth paying if it meant that services like social care would be safe.

However, as Liberal Democrats we still decided to oppose the 15% increase - both as a local party and as the official opposition on Surrey County Council.

A 15% increase would have been the largest in the country and cost an extra £200 a year for the typical household. We simply couldn't support that when there would have been many Surrey residents who couldn't afford the extra payment, especially the elderly and those on low or fixed incomes.

The hard truth is that Surrey's financial crisis cannot be solved with council tax increases.

At the same time as their u-turn, the Conservatives running Surrey County Council announced plans to cut essential public services by £123 million. And even if council tax had gone up by 15% they were still planning cuts of £93 million.

However, they've refused to tell the public where these cuts will be made and they've shown no sign of putting a stop to their financial mismanagement (such as the Conservative leadership giving themselves huge increases in allowances while closing-down every council-run care home) which has helped create this mess.

But our county's financial crisis has also been fuelled by a deliberate decision of the Conservative government to heavily cut funding for councils to provide social care services.

This, more than anything else, has caused the blackhole in Surrey's budget and has created a national crisis in social care as well as putting a massive strain on the NHS which has been forced to pick up the pieces. Yet the Conservative government seem determined to continue with these cuts even though the Chancellor himself is a Surrey MP.

Since we are facing a national crisis in the NHS and social care, we've been calling for central government to create a national solution instead of passing the buck on to council taxpayers.

That's the only realistic way that painful cuts to essential services can be prevented.

In the meantime, we'll be doing all we can to put an end to 20 years of Conservative rule at Surrey County Council so we can put and end to the financial mismanagement and protect public services for those most in need as much as possible.