Cllr David Hodge is the Leader of Surrey County Council.
I never wanted the council I lead to be the first in the country to trigger a council tax referendum, but years of cuts to our funding and increasing demand for social care services have left us with no choice.
The numbers involved tell the story. The Government has cut our annual grant by £170 million since 2010 despite growing demand for adult social care, learning disabilities support, and children’s services. In adult social care alone, demand is increasing by £24 million every year.
The Government recognises we need £70 million for people with learning disabilities but has still cut our funding for this service by £32 million. The Government has calculated we need £25 million from the new national Better Care Fund, but we’re getting nothing this year, nothing next year and just £1.5 million in 2019/20. Labour-run Birmingham should be getting £39 million and it is getting £52 million.
By 2019, our Government grant is set to almost completely disappear and the Government is expecting us to fund all services. In 2019/20, the system is so unfair that the Government is expecting Surrey residents to pay them £17 million.
We believe the impact of funding cuts and increasing demand is greater in Surrey than other councils. It’s unfair that Surrey residents have to foot the bill but our hands have been tied.
I sympathise with the Government – it is facing a difficult economic climate. I believe the Government recognises the need to act but I’m not sure it recognises the urgency.
The Government also has to ask itself whether its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on foreign aid can carry on. Just 1.4 per cent of the £12.2 billion foreign aid budget would have reversed our entire funding cut since 2010.
I became a councillor to make a difference to the communities I represent. In 2014, despite accusations to the contrary, I took only half the rise in my allowance agreed by the county council. But even if I had taken the full rise it would have added up to a few thousand pounds and we need tens of millions.
We intend to make more efficiencies. We have saved £450 million since 2010 and we’re aiming to save £700 million by 2020.
I regret that we’re having to do this. Surrey residents shouldn’t have to pay any more but our services are at breaking point.
I became a councillor to make a difference by ensuring value for money and delivering efficiencies, while improving services for vulnerable people – not to slash services. As councillors, we would have no integrity if we didn’t stand up for what is best for Surrey residents.