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Only Lib Dems support Surrey Council Tax freeze

February 12, 2013 3:03 PM
Originally published by Surrey County Council Lib Dems

Council tax imageLiberal Democrats on Surrey County Council were the only party at today's budget setting meeting to vote for a freeze in Council Tax for Surrey residents, and against the Conservative administration's 1.99% Council Tax increase.

In the critical Council Tax vote today every Conservative County Councillor present voted for an increase of 1.99% in Council Tax, while every Liberal Democrat voted against. Several Conservatives were absent for the vote, with one leaving the room just seconds before the vote. Members of the Residents and Independents group all either abstained or voted with the Conservatives. Surrey's one Labour County Councillor was not at the meeting.

Liberal Democrat Leader of the Opposition Cllr Hazel Watson said: "There is enough money stashed away in the administration's coffers to freeze Council Tax and improve services for Surrey residents where there is a real need to do so.

"Many councils across the country have voted for a Council Tax freeze for the coming financial year, I believe Surrey residents should benefit in the same way.

"Eric Pickles, the Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has said: 'Freezing council tax is practical help every councillor can offer their constituents' and 'Councillors have a moral duty to sign up to keep down the cost of living. Anything less is a kick in the teeth to hard-working, decent taxpayers.' He is right."

Hazel Watson continued: "Liberal Democrats called for more money for Surrey's roads and pavements, and proposed that more should be spent than the Conservative proposals on making Surrey's highways safer for motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders. In addition we called for more support for voluntary organisations, for respite care for the elderly and children with disabilities and for youth services. This was all in addition to the funding for services in the administration's budget."

Fiona White, Liberal Democrat Deputy Group Leader, said: "The Conservatives say the increase is the price of a pint of milk a week. For many families on fixed incomes, who are finding budgeting very tight, this could mean one less bottle of milk."

Text of speech by Hazel Watson:

Hazel Watson - Liberal Democrat Leader of the Opposition - Budget Speech for 2013/14. 12 February 2013

I request a recorded vote on the administration's budget for 2013/14.

I will be voting against the administration's Budget, because there is enough money stashed away in the administration's coffers to freeze Council Tax and improve services for Surrey residents where there is a real need to do so.

The administration has highlighted they are cutting non schools earmarked reserves from £112 million on 31 March 2012 to £100 million on 31 March 2013. What they fail to mention is that the level of these reserves rocketed from £37 million on 31 March 2010 to £112 million on 31 March 2012, nearly a three-fold increase in two years.

Essential services have been underfunded by the administration at County Hall. Our proposals are easily affordable given that the administration has squirreled away over £200 million in reserves and balances.

While I support the extra funding for Surrey's highways, it is not enough.

I propose an extra £6.5 million to improve the condition of the County's roads and footways as well as schemes to improve safety for all road users including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. This is in addition to the extra money from government, making a total of £9.1 million extra for Surrey's roads and footways, £1.5 million more than the administration are proposing. Our budget plans include funding to help deal with Surrey's massive backlog of investment in essential road resurfacing, tackle flooding on Surrey roads, extra grit bins and money to reduce speed limits including 20 mph zones without physical traffic calming.

I propose £400,000 extra support per year, plus £100,000 one off funding for 2013/14, for voluntary organisations that provide essential local services for Surrey residents. This money would restore the administration's £200,000 cut to voluntary organisations in 2012/13. On top of this the we would grant £200,000 to voluntary organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureaux to provide much needed debt advice for Surrey residents. The extra £100,000 for 2013/14 only is to help voluntary organisations provide advice to Surrey residents in a year of benefits changes.

We propose £800,000 to increase the opening hours of youth centres and to provide more detached youth work in local communities.

The administration cut £355,000 last year from respite care for children with disabilities; we would restore £400,000 to this essential service.

We provide an extra £600,000 of funding for respite care for older people which is currently underfunded to the tune of £500,000. The further £100,000 will be used to meet growing demand for this service.

Our budget plans for 2013/14 amount to an extra £6.5 million capital and £2.3 million revenue. This would be funded by halving the excessive £2 million budget for glossy publications and PR spin. The rest of the money would be taken from the huge cash reserves and balances hoarded by the administration totalling over £200 million.

Our Budget plan is a good deal for Surrey residents to improve essential services whilst freezing Council Tax. This contrasts starkly with the administration's Budget which imposes a 1.99% Council Tax increase to hit the pockets of Surrey residents when it is completely unnecessary.

Eric Pickles is right when he says:

"It is unacceptable that some councils are stashing away billions, turning town halls into Fort Knox, whilst at the same time threatening to cut frontline services"

And

"Freezing council tax is practical help every councillor can offer their constituents"

And

'Councillors have a moral duty to sign up to keep down the cost of living. Anything less is a kick in the teeth to hard-working, decent taxpayers.'

I urge all members to vote against the administration's Budget.

I request a recorded vote on the administration's budget for 2013/14.

How councillors voted on the Council Tax increase:

Agawaral

Labour

Absent

Amin

Lib Dem

Absent

Angell

Conservative

For the increase

Barker

Conservative

For the increase

Beardsmore

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Bennison

Conservative

For the increase

Bowes

Conservative

For the increase

Brett-Warburton

Conservative

For the increase

Butcher

Conservative

Absent

Carasco

Conservative

For the increase

Chapman

Conservative

For the increase

Clack

Conservative

For the increase

Coleman

Conservative

Absent

Cooksey

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Cooper

Res/Ind

Absent

Cosser

Conservative

Absent

Curran

Conservative

Absent

Elias

Conservative

Absent

Ellwood

Conservative

For the increase

Few

Conservative

For the increase

Forster

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Fraser

Conservative

For the increase

Frost (Mr)

Res/Ind

For the increase

Frost (Mrs)

Conservative

Absent

Fuller

Conservative

Absent

Furey

Conservative

For the increase

Gimson

Conservative

For the increase

Goodwin

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Gosling

Conservative

For the increase

Grant-Duff

Conservative

For the increase

Hack

Conservative

For the increase

Hall

Conservative

Absent

Hammond

Conservative

For the increase

Harmer

Conservative

For the increase

Harrison

Res/Ind

Abstained

Heath

Conservative

For the increase

Hickman

Res/Ind

Abstained

Hicks

Conservative

For the increase

Hodge

Conservative

For the increase

Ivison

Conservative

For the increase

Kemeny

Conservative

For the increase

Kington

Res/Ind

Abstained

Lake

Independent

Against the increase

Lambell

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Lay

Conservative

Against the increase

Le Gal

Conservative

For the increase

MacLeod

Independent

Absent

Mallett

Conservative

For the increase

Marks

Conservative

For the increase

Marlow

Conservative

For the increase

Martin

Conservative

For the increase

Mason

Res/Ind

Abstained

Moseley

Conservative

For the increase

Nichols

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Norman

Conservative

For the increase

Orrick

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Phelps-Penry

Res/Ind

Abstained

Pitt

Conservative

For the increase

Povey

Conservative

Absent

Renshaw

Conservative

For the increase

Ross-Tomlin

Conservative

For the increase

Saliagopolous

Conservative

Absent

Samuels

Conservative

For the increase

Searle

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Skellett

Conservative

For the increase

Smith

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Sydney

Conservative

For the increase

Taylor (Colin)

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Taylor (Keith)

Conservative

For the increase

Townsend

Res/Ind

For the increase

Turner-Stewart

Conservative

For the increase

Walsh

Conservative

Absent

Watson

Lib Dem

Against the increase

White

Lib Dem

Against the increase

Witham

Conservative

For the increase

Wood

Res/Ind

For the increase

Young

Conservative

Absent*

Res/Ind indicates member of the Residents and Independents Group

Independent indicates former Conservative councillors who now sit as independents not in the Res/Ind Group

* Councillor Young was present for the debate, but left the Council Chamber as the vote was called.