In what can only be described as adding insult to injury for local government in the UK, it has been revealed that Surrey Council is in a financial crisis. The council has overspent dramatically this past year, racking up a £105million funding gap, by far the worst in the UK. In comparison, the average £14million gap looks like a gold-standard achievement, but that only further exemplifies the problem this country has with local government.
Surrey Council has been in the news before regarding its finances, not only has it been overspending over £11million a year, but not long ago scheduled a referendum on council tax. Not to abolish it or reform it as would be sensible, but a simple yes/no question on whether tax payers believed their council tax should be raised by 15%. This absurd referendum was naturally shelved and never spoken of again. Overspending and mismanagement of funds in inherent in the system it would seem, with Northamptonshire Council, infamous for its own financial troubles, being exemplary of this. Not only does it own millions in property that it shouldn’t (and can’t even sell), its own £53million headquarters, which only opened in 2017 are being considered for sale – in order for the council to lease it back.
Attacks are of course piling in from Labour on the funding being slashed by central government, putting the burden of spending cuts on local government and so forth. Totally unsurprising that the Labour Party is advocating for higher spending as a solution to every problem. Less shocking than it should be is the attacks coming from the Conservative leaders of bankrupt councils, accusing the government of purposefully targeting their funds and wasting money they need.
These attacks are rather effective, especially in today’s political climate, where more and more demand for state intervention and spending is coming in from almost all ends of the spectrum. The problem is far more complicated than underfunding though, and the solution equally if not more complicated. It is the system of local governance in this country which is to blame, a disjointed terrible system which was not made to handle such spending, full of people who have little to no knowledge about how to handle the smallest of problems. The council system in the UK is little more than a bureaucratic wet dream, where the solution to any issue is more government, more funding, more mess. The only finances the council seems competent in handling are funnily enough its own salaries – which have risen yet again despite the seemingly impending bankruptcy. Local power is good power, but not when the system is broken beyond repair.
Surrey is the UK’s richest county, which almost seems like a cruel joke. But this is a very serious matter, if tax is raised dramatically, as seems the only way forward, then they are at great risk of losing their precious high-wealth high-tax payers. Childcare is the service which councils identify as the biggest drain on resources, you would think that the UK offered comprehensive childcare – if councils cannot pay for the little services they offer now they are in trouble. Once people begin to realise they are not getting what they pay for there is only one outcome, and it doesn’t look good for councils, or the country for that matter.
Photo: Surrey County Council