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Surrey leader: We haven't done enough on finances

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Surrey CC’s new leader has admitted the council has not done enough in the past to ensure it is financially sustainable.

Speaking ahead of a full council vote on Surrey’s 2019-20 budget today, Tim Oliver (Con), who succeeded David Hodge (Con) in December, warned of “extremely challenging times” as the council’s reserves had depleted by £80m in five years.

Councillors voted to approve a council tax increase of 2.99% and cuts to services including social care, children’s centres and bus passenger concessions.

A resilience report by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy last year concluded that Surrey was facing a budget gap of £86m by the end of 2019-20.

Cllr Oliver told meeting that the “hard choices and tough decisions” would enable the council to set a balanced budget next year.

“There can be no doubt that these remain extremely challenging times,” he said. “The impact of austerity has meant local government has lost 60% of its funding since 2010 and this council has had to use over £80m of its reserves since 2014 to supplement its revenue budget.

“In truth, we have not done enough in the past to ensure our finances are sustainable and this is now a major piece of work. But I am determined we will put this council’s finances on a solid footing as quickly as possible.

“This financial year we’ll have delivered £106m of savings and we will have not had to rely on our very limited reserves.”

Cllr Oliver, who is also leader of Elmbridge BC, said the council had no choice but to recommend the council tax rise, adding “it gives neither me nor indeed anyone pleasure… as Surrey residents pay some of the highest council tax in the country.”

Addressing the decision to reduce the number of children’s centres in the county from 58 to 21, Cllr Oliver said: “None of us in this chamber want to see a reduction in services but there can be no doubt that we need to radically redesign the way we deliver them.”

He also said he was disappointed that Surrey was not one of the 15 councils chosen to pilot 75% business rates retention in 2019-20, after being part of 100% retention pilot this year.

Surrey has seen its temporary staffing bill spiral after making a series of interim appointments aimed at tackling its worsening financial situation.

In the six months after chief executive Joanna Killian took over in March 2018, LGC anaysis of council records indicate the authority signed 30 interim and temporary officer contracts totalling almost £3m.

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