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County Council Develops Plans for New Powers

Published on: 12 May, 2022
Updated on: 14 May, 2022

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Surrey County Council is still pursuing a plan to take more powers from Whitehall as the Queen’s Speech confirms the government will table a new levelling up bill focusing on “empowering local leaders”.

Surrey told Prime Minister Boris Johnson last August it wanted to be considered as a pilot area for devolved powers – but it was not one of the nine areas government invited in February to take part in the first phase.

The Conservative-led county council has not given up its ambition as the cabinet agreed at its last meeting to develop a new devolution proposal.

Cllr Rebecca Paul, deputy cabinet member for levelling up, said the deal “requires collaborative, transparent working with members, councils and other public organisations”.

She said the council shares the government’s levelling up vision at a county level and wants to use new powers to help tackle inequalities in Surrey.

Even before the pandemic, more than 6,000 people lived in areas of Surrey that are within the 20 per cent most deprived areas nationally.

Tim Oliver – Leader of Surrey County Council. Photo Graham Larter

Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver told the SCC Cabinet at its meeting on April 26: “There are three levels being proposed. Broadly we have the existing powers in level one.

“Level two would give us those additional levers, not all of which would necessarily be held by the county council but they would enable us at a local government level to have more control over important issues for our residents.”

These could include, for example, the county council controlling the adult education budget, taking on the Local Enterprise Partnership functions to drive economic growth and create local jobs and, as happens in London, determining bus routes, timetables and fares while still giving the contracts to private companies.

A third level of powers would require the election of a mayor or another form of directly elected leader.

They would have been able to take on the functions of the police and crime commissioner and introduce a supplement on business rates.

But this is not something Surrey would seek to do, the council leader has said.

He added: “Just to reinforce, the county deal will not impinge or affect in any way the sovereignty of the districts and boroughs or the town and parish councils.”

Nick Darby, Residents’ Association and Independent group leader on Surrey County Council, said they would not “oppose a county deal in principle in all circumstances, we definitely don’t want to do that”, but they want more detail and to be kept “involved throughout”.

He said: “The detail is critically important. There is no immediate, as far as I’m concerned, rush to get into this deal. We need to get the basics right.”

The Queen’s Speech on Tuesday (May 10) confirmed devolving some powers to local authorities will still be part of the government’s legislative agenda for the coming year.

The Prince of Wales, who delivered it as the Queen was unable to attend due to ‘mobility problems’, said: “A bill will be brought forward to drive local growth, empowering local leaders to regenerate their areas and ensuring everyone can share in the United Kingdom’s success.”

Cllr Oliver urged the government to complete negotiations with the first wave of county deal areas “as soon as possible to enable the next tranche of counties to benefit from devolved powers and ensure levelling up truly reaches all four corners of England”.

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