Tony Newman, the leader of Croydon Council, has added his name to a round-robin from dozens of Labour-run local authorities demanding that they should receive the same sort of preferential treatment which the Tory government has given to Conservative-run Surrey County Council.
Surrey announced last month that it was prepared to hold a referendum on a 15 per cent Council Tax increase to help fund its adult social care programme, due to continuing cuts in funding from central government. Earlier this week, David Hodge, the Surrey council leader, announced that the referendum was being dropped.
But at Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, read from leaked messages between Whitehall and Hodge which revealed a secret deal which would allow Surrey to drop its Council Tax increase and the politically embarrassing referendum. Surrey has 11 parliamentary constituencies, all Tory, including those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
The message exchange was apparently with a special adviser in the Department for Communities and Local Government, where Croydon Central Tory MP Gavin Barwell is minister for housing and planning.
Today’s Labour local authorities letter to Theresa Maybe, the unelected Prime Minister, was signed by Newman and 61 council leaders and directly elected mayors, “to seek assurance that any deal given to Surrey County Council to support their social care obligations will be offered to all councils”.
The letter states: “We are writing regarding funding arrangements for Conservative-run Surrey County Council. Specifically, the alleged reason behind David Hodge’s decision to drop a planned referendum on increasing council tax by 15 per cent to cover the severe shortfalls in social care, after apparently holding ‘several conversations’ with Whitehall figures.
“It has been widely reported in leaked texts, sent by David Hodge supposedly intended for Nick King, Sajid Javid’s special advisor, that DCLG was working on a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’.
In response, as leaders of Labour councils and council groups, we have a series of questions:
a) Was a deal struck for Surrey County Council?
b) If so, what are the details of the deal?
c) Why was a special deal struck with Surrey behind closed doors?
d) Does the government finally recognise that local government is grossly underfunded and is that why they have given a special deal to Surrey?
e) Does the government now recognise that there will be a £2.6billion shortfall in social care funding by 2020?
f) If a deal was struck, will ministers offer the same deal given to Surrey to all councils, regardless of political affiliation, when the Local Government finance settlement is published on February 22?
We have a crisis in social care, resulting from the Conservative government’s cuts to local authority funding. Secret backroom deals are not the answer. We urgently need a proper solution, which means providing councils with the funding they needed to solve this crisis.
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