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Departing county leader attacks cuts and urges care settlement

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The departing Conservative leader of Surrey CC has railed against government cuts as he prepares to stand down after seven years in the role.

During his formal announcement that he will stand down as Surrey leader on December 11, David Hodge (Con) told a meeting of full council this morning that it was “extremely disappointing” that government had passed on extra responsibilities to councils without proper funding.

He also called for a long-term funding settlement for social care services.

“It is sometimes difficult for someone in local government, that despite continually finding savings and continually facing increased demand, that we are expected to carry on while the National Health Service receives more funding,” said Cllr Hodge.

Surrey is facing a funding gap of £36m in 2018-19, rising to £86m by the end of 2019-20. This rises to £94m the following year.

Cllr Hodge pointed specifically to funding issues for public health, education and social care services as causes of difficulty for the council. He said complaining to his MPs, who include chancellor Philip Hammond, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, and transport secretary Chris Grayling, about central funding had “become a habit”.

On adult social care, Cllr Hodge urged the government to introduce a 10-year funding plan as he warned the system would one day be “brought to a standstill” without the type of funding apportioned to the NHS.

The leader then pointed out that responsibility for children with severe learning difficulties had been handed over to the council from the NHS in 2011, yet annual funding for learning disability provision had been cut by the government by £65m annually. Responsibility for public health was also handed over to local authorities in 2011, yet annual central funding for the service had been cut by £14m every year.

Referencing the county’s failed Ofsted inspection in 2015, Cllr Hodge said he felt “deep regret” for the report but added he now felt ”confident” that Surrey was “in the hands of a children’s services expert”. Dave Hill was appointed executive director for children, families and learning at the county in March.

In a speech detailing his highlights as council leader since 2011, Cllr Hodge spoke of the council’s “extraordinary achievements” in delivering services despite an increase in service demand.

In particular, the leader described the £540m in cuts the council had delivered since 2010 as an “extraordinary achievement in tough times”.

Liberal Democrat leader Chris Botten said that these cuts would have to be “explained” to the community by Cllr Hodge’s replacement, however.

“The [next] leader will need to explain why closing children’s centres will increase resilience and why closing libraries will help our communities,” he said.

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