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Thursday, 9 February 2017
May’s ‘sweetheart deal’ for Surrey council exposed
LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday accused ministers of agreeing a ‘sweetheart deal’ to ensure a Conservative-controlled council dropped plans to raise council tax by up to 15% through a referendum.
On Monday, Surrey County Council restricted the increase, to help fund growing social care costs, to 4.99% – meaning no referendum will be needed. Corbyn asked at Prime Minister’s Questions ‘how much’ had been offered. Theresa May said all councils faced the same rules on raising taxes.
Surrey council’s leader said ‘no deal’ had been reached with ministers and the prime minister’s official spokesperson said all conversations between the government and Surrey had been ‘entirely appropriate’ and there was no ‘sweetheart deal’.
Plans for a referendum – which kicks in on proposed council tax rises of 5% and above – were dropped during a full meeting of Surrey County Council on Tuesday. Councillors will now consider an alternative budget.
In the House of Commons Corbyn said he had seen leaked text messages intended for a Department for Communities and Local Government official called ‘Nick’ from the leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge.
Corbyn said: ‘These texts read, “I’m advised that DCLG officials have been working on a solution and you will be contacting me to agree a memorandum of understanding”.’ He asked: ‘Will the government now publish this memorandum of understanding and, while they’re about it, will all councils be offered the same deal?’
Noting that Chancellor Philip Hammond and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt are both Surrey MPs, Corbyn said: ‘But there was a second text from the Surrey County Council leader to Nick – and in the second text it says, “The numbers you indicated are the numbers I understand are acceptable for me to accept and call off the R”.
‘Now, I’ve been reading a bit of John le Carre and apparently R means referendum. It’s very subtle all this.’ He added: ‘He goes on to say in his text to Nick, “If it is possible that info to be sent to myself, I can then revert back soonest, really want to kill this off.”
‘So how much did the government offer Surrey to kill this off and is the same sweetheart deal on offer to every council facing the social care crisis created by this government?’
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