Council leader denies 'sweetheart deal' with Government

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A Tory-led authority has denied there was a secret deal struck with the Government over funding for social care after scrapping plans for a 15% hike.

Jeremy Corbyn challenged Theresa May at Prime Minister's Questions with a series of leaked text messages from the council's leader, claiming ministers had offered a "sweetheart deal" to Surrey County Council.

But Surrey's leader David Hodge insisted there was no deal with ministers over the decision to abandon the 15% hike and replace it with a 4.99% rise.

He said: "Surrey's decision not to proceed with a 15% council tax increase was ours alone and there has been no deal between Surrey County Council and the Government.

"However, I am confident that the Government now understands the real pressures in adult social care and the need for a lasting solution."

The original plan for a 15% rise to help cover the cost of social care would have required a referendum, but it was abandoned on Tuesday.

The proposal was politically embarrassing for the Government because senior Tories including Chancellor Philip Hammond and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt have constituencies in Surrey.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Corbyn produced a series of text messages from Mr Hodge which are understood to have been intended for Nick King, a special adviser to Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid.

Downing Street sources denied that the messages were intended for Mr King.

Mr Corbyn said: "These texts read 'I'm advised that DCLG officials have been working on a solution and you will be contacting me to agree a memorandum of understanding'."

He challenged ministers to "publish this memorandum of understanding and, while they're about it, will all councils be offered the same deal?"

A second text message read "the numbers you indicated are the numbers I understand are acceptable for me to accept and call off the R" - an apparent reference to the referendum.

Mr Corbyn added: "He goes on to say in his text to Nick 'If it is possible that info to be sent to myself I can then revert back soonest, really want to kill this off'.

"So how much did the Government offer Surrey to kill this off and is the same sweetheart deal on offer to every council facing the social care crisis created by (Mrs May's) Government?"

Mrs May stressed that all councils with responsibility for social care had the ability to raise council tax by an extra 3%.

She said of Mr Corbyn: "He comes to the despatch box making all sorts of claims. Yet again what we get from Labour is alternative facts; what they really need is an alternative leader."