Fringe Box



Council Budget Caught Short

Published on: 13 Oct, 2023
Updated on: 15 Oct, 2023

The public toilets in Shere housed in the old Shere and Albury Volunteer Fire Service station. Image Google Street View

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

A lack of toilets in a Surrey tourist spot could have “very bad consequences” a councillor has warned, as parish council grant cuts were agreed.

The quaint Surrey village of Shere, known as the setting of the Hollywood films The Holiday and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, has also previously been named the coolest place to live in the county.

Cllr Bob Hughes

But Cllr Bob Hughes (Con, Tillingbourne) raised concerns about “discrimination” against rural areas and village communities.

The popular village, within his ward, said: “It isn’t great for the people in Shere that it is a tourist area, but it is.

“The idea that there could be all of those people coming into the middle of Shere, as a tourist attraction, and not have toilets is unthinkable.

“The consequences would be very bad indeed. But Shere Parish Council are having to pay for that.”

As well as being responsible for the toilets in Shere, the parish council owns most of the bus shelters, seats, signs and other street furniture in the village, and maintains them throughout the year.

But Shere’s parish council is to face a cut in the grant it receives from Guildford Borough Council, as the latter attempts to close a projected £18 million budget gap over the next four years.

The borough council has decided to honour existing grant agreements, but will stop any new grants from April 2024.

It will save Guildford £90,000 per year, with the parish council grants having gradually reduced from £114,000 in 2015-16 to its current level, according to meeting documents.

A meeting of the borough council on Tuesday (October 10), confirmed the next stages of the authority’s financial recovery plan: all the council’s assets are to be assessed to see which could be sold, car parking charges and the climate change spending are to be reviewed.

Cllr Hughes said that withdrawing the grants to parish councils would mean they would need to increase the council tax paid by residents and “simply transfers the problems that this administration have created onto those parish councils”.

“Our village communities deserve a lot better than they’re now getting from this council, just because they have made such a mess of their finances.”

Guildford’s financial problems have been under the spotlight since a February budget was passed which resolved to publish an updated budget addressing a £3.3 million shortfall for the year.

Since then, a £10 million accounting error and continued overspending have come to light, but the council announced earlier this month it would avoid declaring effective bankruptcy in issuing a section 114 notice.

On the parish council grants, meeting documents said: “Most councils who offered these grants in the past have ceased them due to financial pressures and the fact that parish councils have no cap on their own precept and can therefore raise funds in their locality for local schemes.”

Cllr George Potter

Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham), the council’s portfolio holder for planning, environment and climate change, denied a claim by Cllr Hughes that parish councils would also be charged for all rubbish bins being emptied.

He explained that parish councils were being asked to pay for the emptying of rubbish bins in places further away from public roads.

Cllr Potter said: “If somebody chooses to provide additional bins in the middle of say, a field, that’s perfectly fine, but I think it’s reasonable in difficult financial times we ask parishes to contribute towards the cost of providing that additional service.”

He said he wouldn’t call it “discrimination” but that Guildford was aligning itself with other councils which have stopped giving grants to parish councils.

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