HftA charity that supports more than 100 people with learning disabilities in Surrey has voiced its concerns over the ongoing developments between Surrey County Council and the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) over adult social care funding. 

Surrey County Council had planned to hold a referendum on a proposed 15% increase in Council Tax rates to provide more money to pay for social care. However, plans for this were dropped during a council meeting earlier this week.

Following this, Labour claimed to have leaked text messages – referred to by some in the press as ‘Nickileaks’, as they were addressed to someone called Nick – that showed government ministers were prepared to offer a ‘sweetheart deal’ to the council to avoid a referendum on the rise. 

However, Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, and Surrey County Council have strenuously denied this.

Nevertheless, the situation is still causing concern for Hft, which provides a range of learning and social activities to people with learning disabilities in Surrey – along with supported living services and a small residential home for six people in New Malden.

Billy Davis, Hft’s public affairs and policy manager, said: “We did not support the idea of a referendum. It was unacceptable of Surrey County Council to put the future funding of care for some of the most vulnerable people in society to a vote, and we are glad to see this idea has rightly been dropped.

“Since then, we have seen the so-called ‘Nickileaks’ text message scandal and DCLG's announcement that Surrey will be a pilot a scheme for the devolution of business rates retention by local authorities. We will monitor the implementation of this scheme with great interest.

“However, previous experience gives us cause to be wary. Learning Disability Observatory statistics have shown that 1 in 3 new referrals will come from households with children who are eligible for free school meals, a typical signifier of poverty. Whilst Surrey County Council's own figures suggest that two extra adults a day may need support from their learning disability services, it must also be noted that Surrey is the richest county in England.

“Hft has long argued that revenues raised at the local level are an ineffective way of plugging social care funding gaps. Areas that have the greatest need often have smaller tax bases, so monies raised at the local level - be it the social care precept or retention of business rates - often only exacerbate this inequality.”

In 2016, independent economics consultancy Cebr produced a study, commissioned by Hft, on the financial pressures facing the learning disability sector. The report concluded that to ensure the learning disability sector is adequately funded central government needs to provide an annual uplift in funding of at least 5%.