SURREY Labour Party is arguing that the way to overcome Surrey’s funding gap and avoid the need for a 15 per cent rise in council tax is to change the current two-tier system of local government which they say is, “expensive and inefficient”.
“If the chancellor won’t provide the money for the county to run its services properly, as he should, then we must ask ourselves, are we managing our affairs properly,?” said Robert Evans, Labour leader on Surrey County Council.
“In Surrey, we have 11 borough and districts, each with a costly administration, council offices, a town hall, a chief executive and councillors.
“If you add on Surrey itself and county hall, it means there are 12 chief executives, dozens of deputies and over 600 councillors – quite apart from parish councils.”
Mr Evans added that in other parts of the country, Berkshire, Cornwall or Dorset, they’ve streamlined their local democracy. For example, Berkshire was abolished in 1998 and the powers passed to six unitary authorities.
Dorset looks set to follow suit. In Cornwall, they had abolished the district councils in 2009 and opted for one unitary authority.
The Labour councillor believes that a similar, radical overhaul will make Surrey more efficient and save millions of pounds. And that it will bring in direct accountability as everyone will know who is responsible as they will only have one council.
Mr Evans added: “But when I forced a debate on Surrey County Council, I’m afraid the Conservatives chose the status quo, and backed the present confusing expensive and inefficient, two-tier system.
“I suspect that so many of them and their friends have a vested interest, as over-paid councillors, they weren’t prepared to look at what is best for the people of Surrey.
“David Hodge, the leader of Surrey County Council, claims they need more money to pay for the ever-increasing adults social care bill, but in a civilised country, this must come from central government paid for from income.
“Adult social care is an important aspect of Surrey County Council’s responsibility, but to try to fund it from council tax is unrealistic and unsustainable. Council tax is a manifestly unfair tax which hits the poorest people hardest and takes no account of people’s ability to pay.
“Instead of hammering the poorest members of society. Surrey is a county, top-heavy in administration and confusion. We must make savings in the cost of local democracy as others have done elsewhere in the country.
“In the absence of this guidance and initiative, Surrey must act alone. A council tax rise of 15 per cent is not the answer. Reforming local government to bring in unitary authorities may be.”