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County Borough and District Leaders Meet to Fight SCC ‘Power Grab’

Published on: 26 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 26 Jul, 2020

SCC leader Tim Oliver and GBC leader Caroline Reeves

By Martin Giles

Guildford council leader Caroline Reeves has joined most of the other borough and district leaders to prepare an alternative proposal for the reorganisation of Surrey’s local government.

Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver is proposing a plan to Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick to make the county, with a population of 1.2 million, England’s biggest single, non-metropolitan, unitary authority.

Map showing Surrey’s 11 borough and district council areas.

The proposal, outlined in an email each leader received on Tuesday, July 14, was raised at a routine “Surrey Leaders Meeting” on July 17.

Cllr Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said: “It was very unfortunate that the leader of Surrey County Council did not consult with any of the borough and district leaders before announcing the plan, in spite of having explained it to all the Surrey MPs.”

It is understood the leader of Woking Borough Council, and possibly one other, declined to agree with the majority.

Cllr Reeves added: “The general opinion was that a single unitary authority is too large and would have a detrimental impact on the social cohesion of the communities within each of the boroughs and districts. The majority of district and borough leaders [we have been told all but one or two] agreed to send a letter to the Secretary of State to voice our concern, and that leaders and the relevant chief executives would work together to put forward alternative proposals.

“A contribution of £10,000 from each authority was suggested as an appropriate contribution from each relevant authority to commission the work looking at this further. The final amounts, and the scale of the required work, is still under consideration but it would still be preferable if Surrey County Council could work with us and be open to exploring further options.”

Joss Bigmore, GBC leader-in-waiting

Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch), who is expected to become GBC leader in September under the power-sharing agreement, said: “R4GV is very supportive of this co-ordinated approach from the boroughs and districts of Surrey. We will not accept being told what is good for us by a county council that is more interested in Westminster and a ruthless desire to stay in power than what residents actually want and voted for in their thousands last May.

“They call this devolution when in reality it moves power and accountability further away from the voters. The sheer hubris displayed is breath-taking. Surrey is too big for a single unitary authority, and the timing of these proposed changes, given the pandemic, the economic crisis, and with the reality of Brexit looming, is completely reckless.

“There has to be proper public consultation on the various options proposed but it seems SCC has already made their mind up on their preferred political solution, so how seriously they are looking at the actual business cases remains to be seen.

“We, with our partners across the county, will show our residents there is a better way, consolidation to improve efficiency without becoming detached from the very people who elect us.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty (Shalford), for the Guildford Greenbelt Group, said: “We have discussed Tim Oliver’s proposal at our GGG meeting on Friday, having been officially advised by Caroline Reeves of the matter only on Thursday.

“We are not necessarily in support of any form of unitary authority, but consider a single unitary authority for the whole of Surrey to be unwieldy, and if any form of unitary authority is imposed GGG would want it to be in smaller components.

“Surrey consists of distinctly different communities and districts, some part of the Greater London conurbation and others which are countryside areas, towns and villages. A single unitary authority would not provide the solution to the problems associated with the present system.

“The full [Guildford Borough] council have not debated this matter. It appears to have been promoted by Tim Oliver of SCC with Surrey MPs, following government pressure for devolvement, but without early engagement with local borough councils or residents and businesses.

“GGG advocate full transparency and involvement of all interested parties with a proper due consultation process.”

Other parties at GBC and Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson were invited to comment.

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Responses to County Borough and District Leaders Meet to Fight SCC ‘Power Grab’

  1. Peter Brayne Reply

    July 27, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    Well at least this disastrous idea is getting the districts and boroughs talking. The current two-tier system needs some radical improvements to improve the effectiveness of our local democratic processes.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    July 27, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    I’d vote for three units:

    1. East Surrey: Epsom + Reigate + Tandridge;
    2. Mid-Surrey: Mole Valley + Waverley + rural, eastern Guildford;
    3. West Surrey: the urban rest.

  3. Mike Robertson Reply

    July 27, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    Absolutely. Surely, the SCC must recognise the effectiveness of diverse thinking.

  4. Diana Holland Reply

    July 28, 2020 at 11:54 am

    We voted for our local councillors and know them. We don’t want to be completely ruled by some faceless body.

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