Jeremy Corbyn alleges Surrey ‘sweetheart deal’ on tax-NewsCO

February 8, 2017

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused ministers of agreeing a “sweetheart deal” to ensure a Conservative-controlled council dropped plans to raise council tax by up to 15%.

On Monday, Surrey County Council restricted the increase, to help fund growing social care costs, to 4.99% – meaning no referendum will be needed.

Mr Corbyn asked at Prime Minister’s Questions “how much” had been offered.

Theresa May said all councils faced the same rules on raising taxes.

And Surrey’s council leader said “no deal” had been reached with ministers.

Plans for a referendum – which kicks in on proposed council tax rises of 5% and above – were dropped during a full meeting of Surrey County Council on Tuesday. Councillors will now consider an alternative budget.

In the Commons Mr Corbyn said he had seen leaked text messages intended for a Department for Communities and Local Government official called “Nick” from the leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge.

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Authorities are required to hold a referendum for council tax increases above of 5% or higher

Mr Corbyn said: “These texts read, ‘I’m advised that DCLG officials have been working on a solution and you will be contacting me to agree a memorandum of understanding’.”

He added: “Will the government now publish this memorandum of understanding and, while they’re about it, will all councils be offered the same deal?”

Noting that Chancellor Philip Hammond and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt are both Surrey MPs, Mr Corbyn asked: “How much did the government offer Surrey to call this off and is the same sweetheart deal on offer to every council facing the social care crisis created by her government?”

The prime minister said: “The deal that is on offer to all councils is the one that I have already set out.”

She added: “He stands up and constantly asks for more spending, more money, more funding. What he fails to recognise is that you can only spend money on the NHS and social care if you have a strong economy to deliver the wealth that we need.”

In a statement issued after the Prime Minister’s Questions dispute, Mr Hodge said: “Surrey’s decision not to proceed with a 15% council tax increase was ours alone and there has been no deal between Surrey County Council and the government.

“However, I am confident that the government now understands the real pressures in adult social care and the need for a lasting solution.”

Councils have been allowed to implement a 3% increase solely for social care over the next two years to plug the funding gap in this area. That is on top of a discretionary general increase of 2%, making a total of 5% before a referendum is needed.

8 February 2017 | 1:05 pm

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