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Budget Opinion: I Hope Conservatives Are Aware of the Implications of Their Actions

Representatives from all four political parties at Guildford Borough Council were invited to give their opinion on the council’s budget, approved last Tuesday (February 7, 2018). Here is a the view from the local Liberal Democrats party…

Cllr Caroline Reeves

By Caroline Reeves

This week Surrey County Council’s budget made the front page of The Times, stating that “Britain’s richest county is facing a £100 million cash crisis” and that “Surrey County Council [SCC] has one of the worst financial shortfalls in the country.”

The blame for this can be laid squarely at the feet of the Conservative majority party at SCC which has chosen to ignore the advice of their Section 150 officer who stated that the county’s budget is unsustainable.

Residents of Guildford might wonder how this can affect us, but we know that the services provided in Surrey are declining, care services, highways and education are all struggling.

This has big implications for us as a borough, and it is perhaps only the fact that we have had excellent officers, for many years, that the borough is not falling into the same hole as SCC, or indeed other authorities such as Northampton who appear to have declared themselves bankrupt.

The root of this is not just bad financial management, it’s also huge cuts in funding to local authorities across the country and an imbalance in the way the Conservative government distributes funding. Surrey is participating in the much vaunted “100% Business Rate Return Scheme” but it now appears that is a misnomer and around £370 million is returned to the government to be redistributed across the rest of the country.

It is ludicrous that local authorities cannot borrow to build homes for those on their housing list, we have to make a one percent reduction in social housing rent – hitting the income used to manage our housing, we have the enforced sale of higher value housing properties that the borough own with no way of recovering the cost to replace the home, the arrival and impact of universal credit, due to be rolled out here later this year… the list of challenges facing local authorities seems endless and getting worse.

We have already seen people who are in work lose their homes because of the failures in the implementation of universal credit, impacting families who Guildford Borough then house and care for – at a cost to the borough. Local charities and organisations, the very people that our most vulnerable residents rely on for support, have lost funding from SCC. If it wasn’t for the huge number of volunteers in the borough many more people would be even more vulnerable

Every MP in Surrey is a Conservative. I hope that they are fully aware of the implications for future years. While we might have a balanced budget this year, the future doesn’t look any easier, we must be cautious.

There are many big projects that have started and that must finish, with more in the future. While Guildford may be better off than most at the moment, the total lack of support from the government means that our ever-inventive officers must continue to plan for a very difficult future, otherwise it isn’t just the most vulnerable in our society who will be much worse off.

See also: Concerns Expressed Over Student Accommodation Loan As GBC Agrees Budget, Budget Reactions – Opposition Leader Criticises Government for Preventing the Building of More Council Homes, We Need To Think About Future Council Finances and We Should Not Be Gambling With Public Money

Cllr Michael Illman (Con, Shalford), lead member for finance, did not respond to the invitation to contribute a piece.

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