Fringe Box



Aidan’s Diary: Importance Of Surrey’s Historic And Cultural Identity In Single Unitary Authority Plan

Published on: 5 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 6 Aug, 2020

Aidan Todd.

Aidan Todd is 19 years old and has lived in Guildford for most of his life. He is planning to study politics and international relations at university. He is writing some articles over the summer for The Guildford Dragon NEWS. This is his second, in which he gives his opinion on the proposals to make Surrey a single unitary authority, and his reference to the county’s important historic and cultural identity

Counties are the building blocks of this nation. Local government is vital for any effective system of government, for it is impossible for every affair to be conducted on the national level.

The 39 historic counties of England predate the Norman conquest, and have cultural distinctions and histories that make them far more than just administrative divisions. Many of them, like Cornwall and Kent, were independent kingdoms before they became part of England. The idea of being from ‘Yorkshire’ or from ‘Durham’ predates the concept of Englishness, and is vital to the people of those county’s sense of identity.

Indeed, the nation being the primary definer of identity is a relatively modern phenomenon, for most of history people defined themselves by their local community. The majority of people would never leave the county they were born in, and people would simply have had very little knowledge about what happened outside.

Surrey County Council’s County Hall in Kingston upon Thames.

So why am I bringing all this up? The leader of the Surrey County Council, Tim Oliver (Con, Weybridge), is proposing a reorganisation of the council to turn it into a unitary authority.

The government has been encouraging this, as it would reduce administration costs to have all decisions made within a single administrative body.

The issue is Surrey has 1.2 million residents, and running all services at this level, argued by Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors, would ignore the needs of locals, despite proposals by the Conservatives to empower town and parish councils to compensate.

There is also the belief among many that this is a simple power grab by the Conservatives, fearful of their declining power in boroughs such as Guildford, and therefore having a vested interest in increasing the power of the county council, which they still control.

Within these discussions, Labour has proposed splitting the county up into three separate authorities. The rationale for this seems to make sense, the county is too populous to run effectively as one unitary authority, but yet centralising decision making into one authority would save money, so therefore the rational solution would be to break it up.

A map of Surrey from 1610.

However, as a left-leaning person, I feel that Labour councillors are focusing only on the administrative aspect, and not enough on the historical and cultural aspect. The fact is that Surrey has been a county since before England existed, and if it were broken up, many residents of Surrey, particularly those who have lived here their whole lives, will lose an important mark of their identity.

For these reasons, my personal view is that the status quo should be maintained. Whilst imperfect, the current county council structure allows for Surrey to exist as an administrative entity, whilst delegating more local matters to the boroughs.

I hope that Surrey does not become a unitary authority as is suggested by the Conservatives, but at the same time I do not want it dismembered. I feel as though the energy being spent on this issue is not worth it, and the council would be better off focusing on others.

Share This Post

Responses to Aidan’s Diary: Importance Of Surrey’s Historic And Cultural Identity In Single Unitary Authority Plan

  1. Daniel Andrew Reply

    August 6, 2020 at 11:19 am

    An interesting perspective, thank you, Aiden.

    It would be good to understand the different historical aspects of Surrey, in greater detail, to see what might be at threat of being lost under the unitary proposal.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *