Labour demands Surrey council 'sweetheart deal' answers

David Hodge and Sajid Javid Image copyright BBC/PA
Image caption Labour is questioning the contact between Surrey council leader David Hodge (left) and Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary

Labour has called for an investigation into whether there was a conflict of interest in the way ministers handled contacts with Surrey County Council.

It claims the Tory authority, which was planning a 15% council tax hike, was given special access to the top levels of government in a "sweetheart deal".

The rise, which was to deal with its social care funding shortage, was then dropped in favour of a 4.99% increase.

A government spokesman has denied there was any "special deal" for the council.

Documents released by the government, and similar records released by the council, detailing behind-the-scenes discussions indicated ministers were offering "some extra funding" from 2018 shortly before the council abandoned the proposed 15% rise, which would have sparked a referendum in Surrey.

The BBC also obtained a leaked recording of council leader David Hodge saying he had struck a deal with the government.

'Unusual contact'

Labour's shadow social care minister Barbara Keeley has now written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood asking him to look at whether "the ministerial code had been broken".

"There was an incredibly high and unusual degree of contact between Surrey County Council, particularly the leader, and government ministers," she said.

"And the government ministers in the case of Surrey include the chancellor and the health secretary.

"This degree of contact that is indicated in all these documents and the tape is very unusual - most council leaders can't even get the time of day with cabinet ministers," she said.

"Why did the leader of Surrey County Council get continual access to meetings with the chancellor and the communities secretary to discuss his council's funding problems while council leaders from Salford and Hull cannot get such meetings?" Ms Keeley asked.

She said she was also asking Sir Jeremy to look at the fact that the council has "the biggest increase in share of [social care] funding over the next three years" as announced in last week's Budget.

A government spokesman said: "As we have repeatedly made clear, there was no special deal for Surrey County Council and they will not receive any extra funding that would not otherwise be provided or offered to other councils.

"To imply the opposite is simply untrue."

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