Cllr Tim Oliver, Conservative Leader of Surrey County Council was interviewed this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme by Amol Rajan. Also Chairman of the County Council Network he welcomed further devolution of financial powers that could lead to a tourist tax and the need for more money to meet burgeoning demands for special educational needs and school transport.
The Epsom and Ewell Times has prepared a tidied up transcript of his interview in full.
- Nottingham City Council became the latest local authority to issue what’s called a section 114 notice, which means it will halt spending on anything not required by law. Let’s talk to Councillor Tim Oliver, who’s a Conservative and leader of Surrey County Council. How big a problem are we facing, and what’s driving it?
TO: Well, it is a significant problem. We’re talking about large councils that deliver social care to our most vulnerable residents. We have seen a huge increase in demand for those services, whether it’s for adult social care or for children’s services. And we’ve now got to the point where really well-managed councils are running out of road financially.
- And what sort of situation are you in, Surrey County Council?
TO: I’m also chairman of the County Council’s Network, so I represent all of those large councils, and the problems are the same. We’ve seen a decrease in our budgets and our funding from central government. What’s different now is that last year, the chancellor gave us a not inconsiderable sum to support adult social care. But we’ve seen a huge demand for services to children with additional needs. The cost of placing those children in specialist facilities has risen exponentially. And a particular area of concern for us is the rising cost of home-to-school transport. Across the whole system, that currently costs about a billion pounds a year, and that’s projected to increase to about 1 and a half billion by 2028. So these are real day-to-day issues. And our plea to the government is to recognize that we’re supporting those most vulnerable members in our communities.
- Would more fiscal devolution help? Do you need more money from the centre, or do you just need more control of the money you get from the centre?
TO: This government had pledged to pursue a devolution agenda, and indeed they have done that. That has been more about controls and levers rather than about fiscal devolution. But yes, I think many of us would welcome that opportunity. That would give us the flexibility to raise taxes locally if that was appropriate, perhaps around tourist tax and so on.
- The Times reported yesterday that middle-class parents are blamed by some councillors for driving the surge in plans for special needs schooling. Is that a problem where you are?
TO: The County Council’s Network, and I am certainly not blaming any individual parents or different groups. We absolutely understand that parents want the best for their children. They’re going to push for that. It’s really important though that we do make sure that the limited funds that are available, that public pound, is used most effectively.
The County Council Network is the voice of England’s counties. Representing the local authorities in county areas, the network is a cross-party organisation which develops policy, commissions research, and presents evidence-based solutions to issues on behalf of the largest grouping of councils in England
Image: Tim Oliver credit LDRS – Surrey Live