Surrey County Council 'sweetheart deal' row escalates

County Hall Image copyright Google
Image caption Surrey County Council released the papers under freedom of information

Correspondence between Surrey County Council's leader and ministers showed the Tory authority had "extraordinary access to government", Labour frontbencher Barbara Keeley has said.

The correspondence was released by the council under freedom of information.

In the papers, Woking MP Jonathan Lord writes to David Hodge that Communities Secretary Sajid Javid could cut funding for other councils to give Surrey £31m.

The government has denied Labour claims Surrey was offered a "sweetheart deal".

Opposition councillors in Surrey have said Mr Hodge's credibility has been undermined and have called on him to resign as council leader or face a motion of no confidence.

Surrey County Council - Freedom of information requests

Ms Keeley told the Commons: "Last night, Surrey County Council released many documents and texts revealing an extraordinary level of access that one council enjoyed with ministers and their advisers."

The MP for Worsley and Eccles South said "my own council" [Salford City Council] was allocated 30 minutes with a junior minister after asking to meet Mr Javid to discuss "difficult" funding and loss of social care funds.

"However, the leader of Surrey County Council was given meetings with [Mr Javid] on October 12, October 19 and January 9.

"There were a number of further meetings with the communities secretary to discuss Surrey County Council's funding situation involving the chancellor [Philip Hammond], health secretary [Jeremy Hunt], and other Surrey MPs.

"There was also a substantial stream of letters, emails and texts, and some of these may make surprising reading."

Analysis, BBC South politics editor Peter Henley:

Now the leader of Surrey County Council faces a motion of no confidence at the next council meeting. Opposition councillors have called on David Hodge to resign following the release of emails in which he called on the prime minister to send more cash "so that Surrey will continue to be a heartland for Conservatives".

David Hodge admits to trying as hard as he could to get the best deal for his county, as any leader would. It's the sweetheart bit that sticks in the throat.

As so often it's the claims of cover-up which seem more dangerous. If abandoning the 15% rise was entirely a decision for Surrey, was he misleading his councillors into thinking a deal with the government was still on the table, when it had been "firmly rejected" as the minister claimed today?

Was David Hodge himself behind the release of embarrassing documents on Budget day? He certainly won't go down with a fight, even if it's with his own side.

MPs heard comments from an email dated 9 January, in which Conservative MP Mr Lord wrote to Mr Hodge: "Sajid led me to understand before Christmas that he would be trying very hard indeed to find £30 or £40m to help Surrey out with the worst of its (government-dictated) financial dilemma.

"I am extremely unimpressed that he has not come up with the goods."

He also wrote: "If all his local government settlement money is really allocated... if the Treasury really is refusing to help out... and if he can't find a pot of money for the 'missing' learning disability grant...then Saj still has the option of adjusting all other council settlements down very slightly in order to accommodate the £31m needed for Surrey - and I think he should be encouraged to do this."

Image copyright Surrey County Council

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