No confidence vote in tax-row Surrey Tory chief fails

David Hodge Image copyright Surrey County Council
Image caption David Hodge has vowed to remain in his position as Surrey County Council's leader

An attempt to oust the Conservative leader of Surrey County Council over an alleged "sweetheart" funding deal with the government has failed.

A motion of no confidence in David Hodge was tabled by the Lib Dems in a row over council tax and central funding.

It was supported by eight councillors with 47 voting against the motions and 12 abstentions.

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

The authority had planned a 15% council tax hike - which would have sparked a referendum in the county - but it was dropped in favour of a 4.99% increase.

Jeremy Corbyn then accused ministers of agreeing a deal to ensure the 15% rise was scrapped.

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Media captionResidents react to the county council vote

After the row over the alleged deal erupted, documents were released by both the government and the council, and a leaked recording was obtained by the BBC.

They detailed behind-the-scenes discussions that indicated ministers were offering "some extra funding", shortly before the council abandoned the proposed 15% rise.

Opposition councillors in Surrey claimed the council leader's credibility had been undermined by the chain of events surrounding the setting of the budget.

The debate and no-confidence vote took place at the first full council meeting since the rise was scrapped in February.

Image caption The Lib-Dems' motion of no confidence was supported by eight councillors

After the no confidence motion failed, Councillor Hazel Watson, Liberal Democrat leader, said Surrey residents had been denied a "fresh start".

She said: "It does not solve the excessive secrecy within the council, which has been the hallmark of Councillor Hodge's leadership, nor does it repair the council's damaged reputation with the people it was elected to serve."

But at Tuesday's meeting, Mr Hodge said the council had asked him to "go back to government and negotiate a fairer deal for Surrey".

He said he had spent months "lobbying the government, putting the facts in front of ministers and writing to Surrey MPs".

"I provided clear evidence of the issues we faced, the soaring cost of care, rising number of vulnerable people and unfair reductions in funding which threatened the very services our residents rely upon.

"I refused to go away. I refused to be fobbed off. But let me be clear. I made the case for a fair deal for Surrey - not a special deal."

Analysis: Jack Fiehn, BBC Surrey political reporter

It was an outcome that was widely expected, given the size of the Conservative majority on the council and the fact that the party had recently re-elected David Hodge as leader unopposed.

But the motion caused feelings to run high and one councillor told me the meeting was tetchy.

Conservatives described it as "opportunistic" and "mean-spirited" and defended their leader as a "remarkable character".

Meanwhile, Hazel Watson said she and the Liberal Democrats were acting in the best interests of Surrey residents.

What was interesting was the lack of support from other opposition parties and groups.

Some members were more concerned about how open and transparent the council's budget processes are in the future, while others insisted it was up to residents to make their feelings known at the county council elections in May.

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