The Liberal Democrats have opposed Surrey County Council's budget as "fundamentally flawed". Surrey council tax payers will continue to receive poor services over the next year, after the ruling Conservative administration adopted a budget that cuts bus services, pot hole repairs, gritting and road gully cleaning.
The Liberal Democrats reluctantly agreed with the proposed 2.9% rise in Council Tax - because the County Council needs the money to improve services - but strongly objected to the details of the budget. Surrey Lib Dem leader Hazel Watson said the budget failed to provide value for money for Surrey residents. "The emphasis should be on increasing and improving services while reducing back office and administrative costs. This budget does the opposite. It cuts services and increases the number of administrative staff."
The Lib Dem councillors made a number of suggestions on how to cut waste and improve services, such as youth facilities, road maintenance, buses and urgent school building repairs, using funds that are already in the budget.
"None of our proposals would increase Council Tax at all. We know that many Surrey residents are struggling to pay their bills, especially Council Tax, and we are keen to help them" said Cllr Watson. "In fact, back in November we presented to Council a plan to help residents and businesses through these difficult times (see Related Link below). This Tory budget is a real waste - they're adding 23 administrative jobs, while at the same time taking away bus services and cutting road maintenance programmes," she concluded.
Evening and Weekend buses will be cut after the elections in June
Cllr John Doran, Lib Dem spokesperson on transport said the Tories had been disingenuous in suggesting there was extra money in the budget for road maintenance. "At the Transport Select Committee back in January, we were told that in order to keep the roads at their current level of repair, we would need to spend an extra £4m this year over what was originally budgeted for - that's £2m from capital and £2m from revenue," he said. "With what's been proposed today, we're still £3m short on that figure, so poor road maintenance won't be going away any time soon."
Other areas which the Liberal Democrats highlighted included better funding for the voluntary sector and the reduction of expensive agency staff and consultants - an issue the Liberal Democrats have highlighted for some time as a significant waste of council taxpayers' money, which should instead be used for improving services.