On the 22nd February, Surrey Heath Borough Council had a meeting. Nothing especially unusual that, except at this meeting it was decided that houses in Council Tax Band D would have their premium raised by 2.5%.
Defending the rise – as reported in the Surrey local press – a SHBC spokesman said this: “A SHBC spokesman said: “The council has suffered many years of reductions in government funding, losing the final £357,000 this year – meaning that the government will provide no support for local services . Furthermore in 2019/20 the council expects to have to pay a subsidy to government to support other areas amounting to almost £1 million. As a result of this members voted to increase council tax by £5 a year – equivalent to 1.4p per day.”
SHBC further said they will avoid a cut to services by adopting “a strategy of delivering efficiency and increasing income”.
Laudable sentiments, but they do come on the back of a £102m splurge on buying property in Camberley Town Centre in 2016 and £15m on an out of town retail park in January of this year. Leaving that profligacy to one side, imagine how upset the good people of Surrey Heath would be if they realised the council had turned down a significant amount of money for no apparent reason. Money that might have kept the library open a little longer, money that might have helped with social care, or kept a community group open was just tossed out of the door with something approaching recklessness`.
Because at exactly the same time as having their budgets squeezed, pleading with the Government for more cash and raising Council Tax, Surrey Heath Borough Council have given every appearance to us of having so much cash swilling around in their coffers that they just don’t know what to do with it.
Last month the Council decided to put out a tender to run football leagues on their astroturf pitches. The previous occasion that they did this, a couple of years ago, they told us that they had accepted a lower offer to run their leagues because Surrey FA had told them to. We made an offer then to the Council which was substantially higher than the offer they eventually accepted, but Surrey FA’s intervention, and the Council’s obviously rich coffers, felt they could turn down this extra cash and go with the Surrey FA recommendation.
Now, let’s leave aside the worrying fact that a third party can influence a Council’s tender decisions, and let’s focus on the money. So this time, we offered 40% more money to the Council to win the tender than the one they eventually chose. Bit of a test, we thought. Were Surrey Heath Borough Council sure then to be so rich that they can turn down an offer of 40% more cash? Yes, you guessed it, they could. So why then, do they have the begging bowl out for £5 to each resident in Band D? No, we can’t answer that either.
It’s not as if there’s a credibility issue. We are larger, more successful, international, longer established and have blue chip credentials compared to the winning tender (which is why we win 9 out of 10 tenders across the UK as we have discussed in previous editorials), so you would think that offering the most money – by far – would have some impact. Again, you’d be wrong.
Now, we have no problem with a council like Surrey Heath Borough Council, or any council for that matter, accepting a tender submission that is worth less money to them than we offer. If a council is so rich, like Surrey Heath clearly are, then we accept that they can choose whomever they like to run their football leagues.
If Surrey Heath Borough Council are so rich that they can turn down many thousands of pounds in extra income then that is their choice, but we question their motives when they turn our money down while simultaneously pleading poverty.
We say: don’t go bleating to the Government saying your strapped for cash to provide essential services when your obviously so rich you can turn down a tender submission offering you thousands of pounds more cash for these same essential services. You just can’t have it both ways.
After the last tender we submitted a Freedom of Information request to Surrey Heath Borough Council asking for the exact amount the winning tender paid the Council compared to what we were going to pay. As you will probably have guessed, the Council have wriggled and squirmed for months, telling the Information Commissioner that they just don’t understand the question and that the information is “commercially sensitive”. We’ll bet it is. Because once they finally admit, as they will have to at some point, that they are throwing away money offered to them then not only will that be hugely embarrassing, it will show up the stark hypocrisy when they ask the taxpayer for more money and plead poverty.
This sort of secrecy, this sort of refusal to provide information has become the hallmark of Surrey Heath Borough Council. But the question remains: Who is behind it all? Maybe their spokesman would like to release a statement to clear it up.
We fear we might be waiting some time.
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