It is quite remarkable that Poly Toynbee of the Guardian could choose to turn the Tory Leader of Surrey County Council David Hodge into a defender of community care services in Surrey or nationwide. What is conspicuously absent from her analysis is a real appreciation of the history of social care in Surrey.
In the early 1990s Sheila Wicks the Chairman of the County Council’s Social Services Committee and a leading member of the County’s Tories went on record as saying that the private sector had no role to play in the provision of social services. Yet within a few years of her leaving the Council Surrey had sold off all its care homes for the elderly. As a member of Surrey’s Social Services Committee I had a role of checking the standards these homes offered. Although they often left something to be desired they formed a basis of provision for the growing number of elderly in the County.
However the buzz phrase circulating at the time was “care in the community”. Labour pointed out that care in the community came with a price tag greater than the tradition of providing residential care to the elderly. Residential homes were seen as a costly hindrance to a community care provision which in the end was never adequately funded. This began to be highlighted by Ofsted Reports critical of Surrey’s social service provision. But it was too late for any concerted action to effectively advocate the retention of the Epsom Cluster. This is a band of community centres on the outskirts of London some dating back to Victorian times. Instead this potential centre for elderly and community care has now become expensive housing.
Excellent work by Labour sole County Councillor in Surrey Robert Evans has highlighted the exchange of emails as members of the Tory Cabinet who are Surrey MPs like Grayling and Hunt sought desperately to avoid the 15% hike in Council tax proposed by Hodge. Evans talks of the full Council meeting on February 7 which was stalled well into the afternoon while Hodge negotiated with the Department of Communities for a deal which would avoid the huge rise in council tax. These are now in the public domain highlighting the fiasco of the misplaced direction to the wrong Nick.
It appears that the Tories will now bring forward plans to allow prosperous well-heeled counties like Surrey to keep their business rates. What is clear is that Hodge would have lost his referendum, creating the prospect of the Tories going on the doorstep in next May’s election speaking against their own proposal. This highlights the desperate need for a nationwide tax based funding of elderly care presently vividly highlighted by the present desperate crisis in the NHS.
Labour in Surrey will still point to the hardship a 4.9% council tax increase will cause to Mrs May’s target group, “Those just managing.” Labour will also be pointing out how the lack of an effective top band in council tax banding will leave the houses in Michael Gove’s constituency in Windlesham making a disproportionate contribution. Labour will also highlight the millions spent by Surrey in an aborted attempt to move its headquarters into Surrey from the London Borough of Kingston upon Thames to Woking. Although it is peanuts in comparison with the huge bill to adequately care for Surrey’s elderly, Labour will highlight the over-generous allowances Hodge and members of his cabinet are currently pocketing.
Always the optimist in bluest of blue Surrey, I hope the whole sad affair will prevent the important County Council elections here from being merely a shoe in for the local Tories.