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Council Leader Backtracks on Claim That Government Decision ‘Kills’ Unitary Bid

Published on: 21 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 21 Sep, 2020

Council leader Tim Oliver and Secretary of State Robert Jenrick

Council Leader Tim Oliver has today backtracked on his leaked email, reported exclusively by The Guildford Dragon NEWS, in which he said an announcement by Secretary of State Robert Jenrick “effectively kills our bid” for the creation of a single unitary authority for Surrey.

In the email, Cllr Oliver (Con, Weybridge) wrote: “Robert Jenrick indicated on Monday that No 10 were not prepared to progress a local government restructuring as part of the Devolution white paper. Some may see that as a U-turn.”

See also: Dragon Interview: SCC Leader on Delayed Unitary Authority Bid

But today in a statement he said: “It is expected that a government White Paper on Recovery and Devolution will still be published in the coming months. In line with that, we have been working hard to determine the best system of local government for Surrey, to make sure that any devolution of power can be truly grasped by our local communities.

“What is most important to me, beyond any structural change or governance, is our residents and giving them more influence over their own communities.

“We have so far received no instruction from the Secretary of State, either to proceed or to stop work on this.”

Cllr Hannah Dalton

Cllr Hannah Dalton (Independent, Epsom & Ewell District Council) of Residents Against a Single Surrey Unitary (RASSU) had responded earlier: “Whilst pleased with the withdrawal of Surrey’s unitary proposal the issue has not gone away. Central government’s decision … has simply moved the timeline.

“I believe that [Cllr Oliver] will reintroduce the proposal as soon as he can. RASSU will continue to campaign and oppose the plan to abolish the 11 Borough and District councils. I urge residents to continue supporting the RASSU campaign and tell their friends about it.

And in an interview with Dragon editor, Martin Giles, this morning, Cllr Oliver said that he was unsure how much the bid had cost but he estimated it was around £150,000, considerably lower than other estimates circulating.

Cllr Oliver continued: “It remains my belief – and the evidence backs this up – that the best system of government for Surrey is one single unitary council. A council that can deliver more power to local communities and is simpler, cheaper and more effective for residents.

“The bedrock of this vision is the creation of local community networks that will give local people a greater say in the issues that affect them, using local knowledge to influence councillors and officers. We will continue to develop these exciting plans regardless of direction from government on reorganisation, so that every resident of Surrey feels they have influence over what really matters to them.

“This is a shared priority of both myself and my counterparts in District and Borough councils and we have committed to work together on this.”

The briefing pack for the SCC’s single unitary authority bid.

But the eleven district and borough councils in Surrey have combined to oppose the single unitary proposal and financed the preparation of an alternative. And Cllr Oliver acknowledged there were other views: “Whilst there are alternate visions for the future system of Local Government in Surrey, there has been consensus that the current two-tiered structure must be reviewed and a good degree of support for a unitary system – albeit some disagreement around the number of unitary councils there should be in Surrey.

“We have made great strides in recent years as a County Council; our stable financial position guided the County through the response to Covid-19, we continue to work to keep our residents safe and lead the recovery alongside our local partners, and the county-wide services we deliver are much improved from several years ago.

“Given the challenges that we face, living with Covid-19 and dealing with its aftermath, it is even more imperative that we deliver more efficient and effective local government.

“Our ambition remains to be a council that is fit for the future, that can engage and empower the natural communities residents identify with, while also planning strategically for the benefit of the whole county.”

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Responses to Council Leader Backtracks on Claim That Government Decision ‘Kills’ Unitary Bid

  1. George Potter Reply

    September 21, 2020 at 1:59 pm

    I would hate to accuse our illustrious county council leader of dishonesty, but to claim Surrey has a “stable financial position” really stretches the bounds of credulity to breaking point given the massive financial black hole which he keeps telling us justifies the cutting (or should I say, the “transformation”) public services and the year on year increase in council tax rates.

    To be fair, his decision to give a £10 million pay increase to senior managers at county hall this year (as reported in the Farnham Herald) certainly doesn’t seem to be the action of a man who believes money is all that tight, so perhaps I’m mistaken and there really is plenty of money to go around after all.

    George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

  2. John Ferns Reply

    September 21, 2020 at 4:21 pm

    It beggars belief for Cllr Oliver to say, “It remains my belief – and the evidence backs this up – that the best system of government for Surrey is one single unitary council. A council that can deliver more power to local communities and is simpler, cheaper and more effective for residents.”

    This smacks of a disaster if Ash Parish, the last bastion of fundamentalist Toryism within Guildford Borough, is to become our only “local” link to a unitary authority, should the cavalier attitude and current makeup of our parish council remain the same.

    Definitely a desperate attempt to extinguish all independent fresh thought within the county by an increasingly embattled and moribund ruling party. May they soon be put out of their misery.

  3. Mike Murphy Reply

    September 22, 2020 at 1:35 am

    I think everyone that voted for the Conservative party in the national and local elections must consider whether they want a repeat of the dreadful Spooner/Furniss GBC fiasco repeated in Surrey County Council.

    The way forward is obviously to elect independent councillors who do not belong to the Conservative, Labour, or Lib Dem parties.

  4. Michael Bruton Reply

    September 22, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    Back in about 1995, Surrey Boroughs wanted to abolish Surrey County Council and take over its responsibilities. And made a financial case for it. Much as SCC is doing in reverse today.

    Politicians are of course brilliant at exaggerating the benefits and underestimating the costs of whatever they want. Two examples – HS2 and the abolition of the vehicle tax disc.

    I grew up in Cornwall and we still own our family home there. In c2000, Cornwall abolished its boroughs and replaced it with a unitary authority of 123 elected Councillors. Its population is half that of Surrey.

    Is unitary Cornwall today any better than with the Borough system? I have seen ZERO material improvement whatsoever.

    How many of the Borough HQs have been sold off? One I think.

    They have however changed the refuse collection procedures. Cornwall lives off tourism of course. If one lets one’s home as a holiday let, now one has to arrange and pay for the rubbish collection privately (when let). So there are now twice as many vehicles trundling around; council refuse collection lorries and private collection lorries.

    Personally I care not a lot whether Surrey becomes a unitary authority or not. What I do know though is that NOT a penny will be saved, despite all the expensive consultant reports and graphs to the contrary.

    The purpose of local government appears still to be to gorge on taxpayer money and to further its own self interest. Any profligacy appears not to matter.

    When I look at my two council tax bills, like many of my friends, I wonder what councils do with our money. Other than just spend it. And ask for ever more.

  5. Jim Allen Reply

    September 22, 2020 at 1:47 pm

    This claim of better efficiency is smoke and mirrors; a three-minute egg takes three minutes no matter when or where it is cooked. Likewise, a five-page form takes the same time to fill in no matter the name of the organisation supplying the form.

    What is more efficient is having a phone answered by a local person who knows where you are talking about. Talking to a person on Skye about the Goodwin Sands is grossly inefficient. Likewise talking to Richmond reference to Burpham!

    Spend the money on providing service not on building “local fiefdoms”.

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