Fringe Box



Dragon Interview: Bill Barker – Retiring County Councillor

Published on: 30 Apr, 2017
Updated on: 2 May, 2017

Cllr Bill Barker retiring after 20 years service as a county councillor

As Cllr Bill Barker prepares to step down from his role as a county councillor after 20 years he shares some of his views with Effingham Eye columnist Chris Dick.

How did you first get involved in politics?
I originally became involved in politics almost by default and a chance conversation with our local borough councillor. She called round to welcome us to her area and in conversation she suggested that I should stand as a councillor. I didn’t know whether she meant parish, borough or county councillor – it turned out to be as a county councillor.
In those days there was no real selection process so all you needed was ten signatures, which the borough councillor sorted out. So I ended up taking over from Tony Page, an Effingham resident who had served for decades in all those roles.

You have just returned from a month travelling to New Zealand and eight other tiny islands that few of us have ever heard of such as Vanuatu and Port Vila. Was there a reason for this particular trip?
My first trip to sea in 1950 was as a navigating apprentice with BP. We had to sail to Auckland to discharge oil. As it had been my first port of call I really wanted to go back one final time.

You have had an extraordinary career, can you give us a bit of your background before becoming a councillor.
I became a shipping tanker captain for BP and then their world operations manager for the entire BP oil tanker fleet. When I retired from BP I became a risk manager for an insurance company, for the ports and shipping industry. I was still doing that when I became elected as a councillor at Surrey County Council (SCC).

What was your wife, Anne’s reaction to the news of your intended retirement?
Anne’s comment was in effect, high time too, although she didn’t put it quite like that!

What are the biggest changes that you have seen over the years?
The number of cars on the road.

What do you consider could be done about that?
I don’t think spending large amounts of money on big projects like the A3/ M25 junction will have much impact on our congested roads. It will just eat up more of our green belt. There needs to be a much better countywide approach. The new multi-modal traffic lights really don’t seem to improve traffic flow. And the idea of a tunnel under Guildford is not a practical solution in terms of cost and engineering difficulties.

Cllr Barker (left) pictured here in 2013 when he joined other green belt protestors on their “March on Millmead”

There never seems to be enough money at SCC to run the police, cover education, repair the roads etc … why is this? Was it better when, for example, councils did there own road repairs?
There is simply not enough money for social services, police and fire services as well as road repairs and everything else the council does. It is a sad fact that the private road repair contractors know more about repairing roads than our officers. What is interesting is that, with the same funding, they seem to be able to do the job and make a profit.

What has been the most frustrating aspect of your time at SCC?
My biggest frustration has always been with the Highways Department. They lack that essential “can do” attitude that every organisation needs to be effective. Private businesses would not survive without that can do approach. It’s no good just saying that there is not enough money. There never will be.

How could SCC and its Highways Department address these financial difficulties?
The answer is to amalgamate the county and borough councils. You will have seen that SCC, East and West Sussex county councils are looking to amalgamate. But in reality this initiative needs to include the borough and district councils as well.
The savings would be significant if the private sector is anything to go by. The private sector makes huge savings when merges and acquisitions take place. These mergers always result in economies of scale.
Then we need to promote those who demonstrate real talent and consistently deliver the right results.

SCC has been in news recently regarding a rise in tax. What were your views at the time?
David Hodge, the leader, has been faced with insufficient funding to provide beds for recovering elderly patients. The problem is often that families say that they are unable to look after their elderly relatives at home but then demand that SCC place them in care homes near them. The result is that many occupy hospital beds longer than required for their recovery. David was unable to raise the funds needed within the limits set by government, so central government will have to fund the shortfall.

What has been your most satisfying achievements as a councillor?
There have been quite a few but not as many as I would have liked. I suppose the best was early on when I was able to arrange transport for the prison wardens’ children at Send Prison. The children had been obliged to walk three miles to school at Send on particularly busy and dangerous roads that even involved crossing one of the A3 slip roads. I managed to convince SCC to provide transport.
I was also really pleased to have been able to support the Ripley Farmers Market with a small part of my local allowance. It is wonderful to see what a success this market has become. I would like to record my thanks to the hard working team that arrange the stalls every second Saturday of the month.

What roles will you continue to fulfil?
I will continue helping the Ripley Good Neighbours. This is a group of volunteer drivers who take old people to hospital, doctor’s appointments and out on essential shopping trips. These elderly people would otherwise be unable to do this for themselves. I would also like to continue as a Hospital Governor at Royal Surrey but it may not be possible as my current role ends when I cease to be a councillor.

What advice would you give your successor?
Whoever it is needs to look to the people who voted them into the role not towards their party hierarchy.
Everyone at SCC is encouraged to think strategically but all the problems are usually “down in the weeds”.

The fate of the former Wisley Airfield is close to your heart. What do you want to see happen there, if anything?
The airfield is in the green belt on elevated land that makes any building visible for miles around. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and is not appropriate for any development at all.
In my view this land should not have been included in the draft Local Plan by a Conservative controlled borough council. It is totally at odds with their election manifesto that said that the green belt was in safe hands with the Conservatives.

How would you describe your relationship with Guildford Borough Council?
Latterly it has been very poor.

You have had many complaints over the years about school places. What are your views about the Berkeley Homes Howard of Effingham planning appeal?
There will always be a need to increase the number of school places as our population rises. I could accept this development of green belt as exceptional use if the new school capacity was capable of including all children in the area needing places. However, if the new school only had the capacity to take those children from the new enabling development, then there is no overall benefit to those needing school places. In effect it is just maintaining the status quo and I would not support it.

What are your views of our local MP Sir Paul Beresford – could he do more for his constituents?
Sir Paul Beresford did very well under Margaret Thatcher and in particular when he was the leader at Wandsworth Council. He still turns out at local events and supports local issues. For example last night (April 12th) he attended East Horsley Village Hall and supported the Wisley Action Group (WAG) in their efforts to ban building on the old WW2 Wisley Airfield at Three Farms Meadows. That said, I am also aware of his leading role in the refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament, which will be a massive commitment of his time and energy.

For a list of all candidates standing in the Surrey Count Council election on Thursday May 4, please click here.

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