Brighton council leader calls for more government cash for care after details of Surrey ‘special deal’ revealed
Brighton council leader Warren Morgan has called for an investigation into whether Surrey has been given a special deal to help pay for social care after details of exchanges between the county council and the government were dramatically leaked today.
The exchanges between Surrey’s council leader David Hodge and a Whitehall official named Nick were revealed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during a heated prime minister’s question time this lunchtime.
Surrey had been threatening to hold a referendum into plans for a 15% rise in council tax to pay for the rising costs of social care – plans which were dropped yesterday during a meeting which was adjourned twice for secret discussions between Mr Hodge and the council’s chief executive.
Mr Corbyn said today the leaked text, which is believed to have been sent by Mr Hodge in error to a different Nick, read: “I’m advised DCLG [Department of Communities and Local Government] officials have been working on a solution and you will be contacting me to agree a memorandum of understanding.”
The alleged texts, which appear to be from the official’s phone, have now appeared on the Guido Fawkes website here. Another from Mr Hodge says: “I have received clarification from my CE who confirms Matthew Styes and Sheila Little have just spoken and the numbers you indicated are the numbers that I understand are acceptable for me to accept and call off the R…..”
Theresa May responded by saying Labour is offering alternative facts, when what they really need is an alternative leader. She also said that you can only spend money on social care if you have a strong economy.
Following the exchange in Parliament, Cllr Morgan said: “There seems to be evidence that some kind of arrangement has been made between Surrey County Council and the Government to help them meet their social care costs.
“All top-tier councils like Surrey and Brighton and Hove face huge pressures in meeting the funding challenges; with our social care bill now some £25m more than the entire amount we bring in through council tax.
“Surrey were threatening a 15% council tax increase, but yesterday at the last minute chose to reduce it to 5%, the same as Brighton and Hove City Ccouncil and our neighbours in East Sussex.
“We have worked very hard to minimise cuts to jobs and services whilst facing huge cuts and rapidly escalating social care costs.
“There must be an investigation into whether Surrey have won a preferential funding deal by threatening a steep rise, and if so then the Government have to make that same deal available to other councils who have played by the rules.
“We cannot continue to have the Government pass the costs of services on to the local taxpayer and there is agreement cross-party that they have to find an urgent solution to the social care funding crisis.”
Surrey County Council this afternoon released a statement saying the decision to cancel the referendum “was ours alone. There has been no deal between Surrey County Council and the Government”.
A Downing Street source told the Mirror: “I’m not going to comment on leaked text messages but I can assure you there is no sweetheart deal.
“There is dialogue between DCLG and all councils that happens on an annual basis … but there is no deal.”
Mr Hodge told ITV’s Robert Peston that he had sent the texts to Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council and fellow member of the Local Government Association, in error, but insisted there was no deal.