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County Council Plan to Axe Joint Committees ‘Undermines Local Democracy’

Published on: 5 Jul, 2022
Updated on: 8 Jul, 2022

Agenda front sheet from the recent Guildford Joint Committee meeting

By Martin Giles

Liberal Democrat councillors say the Conservative-run Surrey County Council’s plan to axe joint and area committees, “undermines local democracy and [will] reduce the local people’s voice in council decisions”.

The Joint Committee for Guildford is made up of the 10 county councillors who represent each of the SCC divisions within the borough and 10 members from Guildford Borough Council.

Other parties are also critical of the move. Guildford Labour say, “[the joint committee is crucial to a coherent approach to issues” and the R4GV leader of GBC added, “it’s a shame that SCC has decided on this course of action … our two authorities need to work closely together to improve things”.

On the dedicated SCC webpage for the Guildford Joint Committee, SCC states: “Surrey County Council’s Joint Committee in Guildford aims to bring decision making closer to residents by meeting in Guildford Borough Council Chamber (Guildford) to discuss and make decisions on issues such as public rights of way and libraries.”

Lib Dems, who are jointly in control at Guildford Borough Council with the Residents for Guildford & Villages, and an opposition party at SCC, say Local and Joint Committees have been the mainstay of local democracy in Surrey over the last 20 years, providing a forum for county councillors to join with their counterparts from the district/borough councils to discuss issues and make decisions on local county council spending.

Members of the public participate in the meetings by bringing petitions and asking questions about council services.

In a press release, a spokesperson said: “The Tory administration no longer values the role of these committees and has gradually reduced the frequency of meetings and their remit, removing decision-making on highway functions at its Cabinet meeting in February this year.

“Various ideas have been floated about replacing them with a new model of partnership working but as yet, no firm proposals or timeline have been set.”

The Surrey Lib Dems say continue to be supportive of the work of the Local and Joint Committees and have opposed their abolition, which is now set for, by October 31 2022. The Lib Dem group will bring a motion to the July Full Council meeting calling for the committees to continue until their replacements are fully implemented.

Cllr Will Forster

In proposing the motion Will Forster, Leader of the Lib Dems said: “This move really threatens to undermine local democracy and reduce the local people’s voice in council decisions.

“The Tories have been looking to abolish Local and Joint Committees for a number of years but have yet to come up with any firm proposals for anything that will work better.

“Our concern is that if they are completely abolished without their replacements up and running, there could be a real temporary or even a permanent deficit in local democracy. Centralising power or giving it to council officers to make decisions goes against our fundamental belief in localism and we want to press the county council into committing to a future that provides for local participation in local decision-making.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

GBC leader Joss Bigmore (Christchurch) said: “In many ways, it’s a shame that SCC has decided on this course of action.  I am more interested in finding a new forum where GBC and SCC can discuss our shared objectives, and make that accessible to the public.

“Air quality remains a huge issue across the borough and our two authorities need to work closely together to improve things.  Similarly, we can’t meet our climate change goals without significant changes to the way we move around the county and that requires districts and boroughs working closely with the county to deliver for our residents.”

Brian Creese

The chair of Guildford Labour, Brian Creese said: “Given the system we have of two local authority tiers, county and borough, with overlapping responsibilities, the Joint Committee is crucial to a coherent approach to issues.

“Closing down the committee will lead to increased bureaucratic backlogs and hinder joined-up thinking. All parties need to reconsider urgently if Guildford residents are going to be properly represented.”

The Guildford Conservative Association was also invited to comment.

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test 3 Responses to County Council Plan to Axe Joint Committees ‘Undermines Local Democracy’

  1. Wayne Smith Reply

    July 5, 2022 at 8:20 pm

    The same Joint Committee at which in March this year, SCC Cllr Furniss had one of his hissy fits upon not getting his own way with GBC not agreeing to take on town centre highway maintenance without first getting suitable funding.

    https://guildford-dragon.com/no-money-no-deal-gbc-tells-county-council-on-highways-maintenance/

    He said: “It will be highly unlikely that we will do anything at risk in good faith from GBC anymore as it is clear [that] partnership for GBC is one way. There will be no revised offer.”

    So was the Joint Committee really a forum for joined-up thinking or was it just a means to nod through SCC latest/greatest idea and perish the thought of any dissent?

    • George Potter Reply

      July 8, 2022 at 12:06 pm

      “So was the Joint Committee really a forum for joined-up thinking or was it just a means to nod through SCC latest/greatest idea and perish the thought of any dissent?”

      What I find interesting is how the abolition of the Joint Committees came only after the May 2021 county council elections where Surrey Conservatives suddenly found themselves without a majority on Joint Committees all over the county.

      Strange how the Conservatives rapidly abolished these organs of decision-making the moment they fell under opposition control.

      But maybe I’m just being cynical.

      George Potter is a Lib Dem county and borough councillor

  2. Valerie Thompson Reply

    July 7, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    Smacks of a repressive communist regime getting ready to deny local people any say whatsoever in their borough or district’s future.

    Who do they think they are? Putin?

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