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SURREY County Council has received criticism for “playing the property speculator” with a substantial amount of money estimated to the amount of £74 million, all the while looking at ways to make a £2.8 million cut to its housing-related support service.

The cuts have been discussed in a public consultation which closed on the 13th August with the results yet to be released.

If the proposed cuts have been given the all clear this will represent a cut to services that help vulnerable residents of a humongous 70%, including  vulnerable residents living independently, which includes Waverley’s eight warden-led sheltered housing schemes.

Surrey council is not the only local authority playing the UK property market, in fact they are just one in a long list of councils.

Surrey council has become more than just a bit part player in commercial property investment in the last couple of years, with major investment made with knock down priced loans from the UK public works loan board.

The reason many councils are looking to the UK property market is make up the shortfall in their budgets and supposedly pay for vital services, but experts have warned some are building “exceptionally risky” portfolios.

Surrey County Council’s portfolio:

  • Malvern Shopping Park in Worcestershire for £74million.
  • Residential property in Worcester for £11.8million.
  • EE’s regional headquarters in Bristol for £20million closer to home.
  • The former Friends Life office building in Dorking for an estimated £36 million.

Surrey is one of 11 councils to spend more than £50million on property investments.

Local authorities now account for up to a third of buyers in some areas, inflating prices.

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chaired the public accounts committee in the last parliament, said: “The danger is a repeat of the Icelandic banking collapse, when councils were overexposed to one market.

“A crash in the value of offices or shopping centers could have a very big impact, with councils suddenly owning a lot of white elephants.”

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, told The Herald: “Surrey County Council cannot on the one hand threaten residents with a 15 per cent rise in their council tax, because of a lack of funds, and then find cash down the back of the sofa to go and play the property speculator.

“Too often we see councils going far beyond their briefs and taking away business that can adequately be done by the private sector.

“Local residents really need their representatives to be offering better value for money and should think again before committing any taxpayers’ money to this project.”

Responding, a council spokesman said: “With need for crucial services in Surrey continuing to rise we have devised an investment strategy that will help us secure the county’s future by ensuring we have money for key services, such as adult social care, children’s services and road maintenance, in years to come.

“However, we do not comment on individual cases or transactions that we may or may not be involved in.”

Surrey’s bid to save £2.8million through cuts to its housing related support, currently out to consultation, states the council “will no longer provide funding for housing-related support.

“This may mean your housing-related support will cease. If you have an on-going need for support you will be able to ask adult social care for an assessment of your needs.

“If, as a result of this assessment, you qualify for support under the Care Act eligibility criteria, you will receive funding through a personal budget from Surrey CC.”

If approved, Surrey’s shift from the current universal offer to targeted support for adults with eligible needs, will cut funding to WBC for community warden services in sheltered housing schemes.

Sue Zirps, chief executive Age UK Surrey, said: “As we are all aware Surrey needs to make additional savings this year and this is one area they have identified as a possible saving.

“It would be hoped WBC could find a way of continuing this vital service to their residents if funding were to be reduced.”

Andy MacLeod, of the council’s opposition group Farnham Residents, voiced concern about the proposals at last week’s Farnham Town Council meeting.

He said: “Surrey are proposing to cut out completely the housing-related support they give to the supported living homes in Surrey, eight of which are in Waverley,” he said.

“That’s £178,000 and it actually pays for half the costs of the managers of these homes, so if that money’s slipping away the people there are going to find that instead of having a manager for each home, as they are used to, managers will have to look after two homes.

“I don’t see how that’s going to work, and I’m going to be looking for support from Waverley’s other Surrey councillors to see if this is bit too draconian.”

A WBC spokesman said: “Historically, Surrey has provided some funding to districts and boroughs to provide housing-related support.

“In Waverley, this funding goes towards the costs of the borough’s sheltered housing service.

“WBC arranged consultation meetings at each of the sheltered housing schemes to help Surrey officers present their proposals to Waverley housing tenants.”

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