Demand better than council tax rises and cuts to essential public services

January 24, 2019 6:33 PM
By Zöe Franklin
On Tuesday it became clear that Conservative-run Surrey Council Council are planning to increase Council Tax while continuing to pursue deeply unpopular plans to cut essential public services including closing 31 Children's Centres and 4 community recycling centres; scrapping certain concessionary bus passes; making savage cuts to library and cultural services; and cutting spending on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In spite of these cuts and tax increases, it is made clear in the report continuing the proposals that the financial future of the council is bleak.

In contrast neighbouring Kingston Borough Council announced on Monday this week that they had made the hard decision to put up their Council Tax but were very clear that doing so was the only way to ensure that they could safeguard essential services that impact upon the most vulnerable in their community and ensure a financially secure and sustainable future.

It's worth me saying before I continue that I am not suggesting that increasing Council Tax is the right solution for every authority but when faced with continuing government funding cuts that threaten core services, especially those that serve the most vulnerable in our communities, and council budgets where there is nowhere left to make the savings needed it is sometimes necessary to make tough decisions.

When we look at Surrey and Kingston there are clear similarities - both are responsible for adult and child social care, libraries, SEND, and many other core services - and both have had huge cuts in government funding. Kingston, in fact, receives no grant from the government and 100% of services are paid for directly by the public. The core difference is this - Kingston is a Liberal Democrat-run authority and is prepared to make difficult but bold decisions, and be upfront with local people on why they have made them. They recognise that residents expect councils to safeguard core services in spite of growing challenges to council budgets. And while residents would, of course, prefer Council Tax not to go up when presented with leaders who are open and honest about the challenges and clear that they are committed to protecting key services they are generally willing to accept increases to Council Tax.

Surrey County Council's Conservative leaders have for years failed to take the steps necessary to protect core services providing support for our most vulnerable residents; ignored local views on the harsh cuts they have inflicted; and continued to retain unnecessary additional councillor roles, make poor investment decisions and pay expensive external consultant fees. It is clear that the Conservative leadership no longer have the best interests of Surrey residents at heart. Surrey residents deserve better.

There is an alternative to the Conservative failures. My Liberal Democrats colleagues on Surrey County Council have consistently provided robust challenge on behalf of residents and have bold ideas about how to bring real change to the County Council.

In May this year we have local elections which are an opportunity to elect new councillors at a Borough level who listen and act on local issues and at the same time make it clear to Surrey County Council's Conservative leadership that you are unhappy with their approach. So demand better, vote Liberal Democrat on May 2 2019 - it's time for real, positive change.

I encourage you if you want to find out more take a look at the Surrey County Council Lib Dems website and Lib Dem Leader's blog or get in touch with your local county councillor.