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Godalming & Ash Candidates Cross Swords Over Council Collaboration

Published on: 22 Mar, 2024
Updated on: 22 Mar, 2024

By Martin Giles

A video of Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative MP for Surrey South West and nominated candidate for the new constituency of Godalming & Ash, requesting support for a petition, has attracted an quick response from the prospective Liberal Democrat candidate Paul Follows, also the leader of Waverley Borough Council.

See also: Guildford ‘Will Be More Marginal’ Under Proposed Changes to Surrey’s Constituency Boundaries

The councils agreed under previous administrations to share senior officer roles to save money.

In his video, Mr Hunt says that the Housing Revenue Account investigation at Guildford Borough Council is having an adverse affect that is “costing” both Guildford and Waverley Residents “dearly” and  is distracting GBC from sorting out its “very serious fraud issue” he labels “a scandal” which, he says, is sucking in Waverley Council. Describing the collaboration as a “merger” he asks for viewers to support his petition.

The Conservative leader of the opposition at Waverley Borough Council, Peter Martin, also appears in the video to support the MP’s argument. (See both videos below…)

But Paul Follows was quick to respond in kind with his own video. He says the Surrey SW MP, also the Chancellor of the Exchequer,  is against things that are not happening, there is no “merger” and it is not costing residents money, but rather saving “hundreds of thousands of pounds a year by sharing some senior officers and back office services”.

He goes on to say that the savings have been made necessary by the central government reducing local government funding.

The Guildford Dragon asked other political parties for their views.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Joss Bigmore, leader of Residents for Guildford & Villages (R4GV), said: “I will not be signing the petition. The collaboration between Guildford and Waverley is a necessary response to the problems caused by the huge reductions in central Government Funding to Local Authorities. We can’t protect services without working with partners.

“That being said, the woeful lack of progress on the collaboration since the LDs assumed leadership of both councils a year ago is extremely disappointing. The uncertainty caused by their lack of leadership and vision for the partnership is destabilising both councils where we are seeing many good officers leave and a year of missed opportunities to save money and improve services.”

Cllr James Walsh

Cllr James Walsh, leader of the GBC’s Labour group, said: “Of all the issues affecting the country right now, it is interesting that the Chancellor has decided to make a video about the Guildford-Waverley council collaboration. Anyone would think there’s an election in the offing and that Mr Hunt may be worried about losing his new seat.

“While we accept that there’s a lot of sense in finding savings and better ways of working in ‘back office’ functions in both councils, we have repeatedly expressed concern that there appears to be no vision to the collaboration, limited scope for savings, few funds to pay for the required changes to IT and undue pressure on staff. Much of the effort seems to be about asking people to double-up on work, which is simply not feasible or fair. We are already seeing people leaving in droves.

“Mr Hunt is wrong to talk about a ‘merger’ though; the councils remain separate entities and it should not be forgotten that 14 years of cuts to local government funding by Mr Hunt’s government have led us to this place. From councils like Woking racking up £2 billion in debt, when under Conservative control, to councils like Guildford and Waverley looking under the bedclothes to find savings, the Conservatives have swung a wrecking ball through local government up and down the land.

“It’s a bit rich for Mr Hunt to jump on this bandwagon, not least because it is his government that has relentlessly cut funding to the bone and enabled councils to invest taxpayers’ money as the only alternative – without many having the skills and knowledge to take such decisions and resulting disaster.”

Cllr Bill Akhtar

Cllr Bilal Akhtar, deputy Conservative group leader, said: “The Guildford Conservative group supports this petition. We have been very clear about our concerns and have asked questions in full council without satisfactory response. There has been insufficient clarity about the savings being made and our concerns are that any savings may be at the cost of reduced productivity.

“Our primary concern is the potential consequences of rushed decision-making due to overstretched staff resulting in increased costs elsewhere within the council. Given the current administrative pressures at Guildford Borough Council, we believe a senior management team dedicated to Guildford is required.”

Cllr Pat Oven

The Leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, Pat Oven, said GGG had supported the Conservatives in opposing the merger when the proposal to merge the chief executive and  senior officer positions of the two councils was made in 2021.

He continued: “The merger was favoured by both Lib Dems and R4GV who were in coalition at the time. The proposal was made against the background of there being discussion of a unitary authority for Surrey. A partial merger of Guildford and Waverley was felt to be a way of reducing that pressure.

“GGG felt that whilst the merger of functions could save money in the long-term, it would not in the short-term because of the need to pay for senior officer redundancies. It was also considered that senior officers could be spread too thinly and things could be missed for example the current housing revenue account potential fraud.

“But now is not the time to be considering the reversal of the change. I carry no torch for the Lib Dems, however this is purely an opportunist, politically-motivated petition created with a cynical eye on the forthcoming general election.”

Cllr Peter Martin, Conservative leader at Waverley Council

Expanding on his comment in the video, Cllr Peter Martin, the Waverley Conservative group leader, said: “The Conservatives at both Waverley and Guildford Borough Councils have opposed from the very start what they believe is a merger by stealth of the two councils.

“It’s time to stop this back door merger.  Already the top 15 posts at Guildford and Waverley are joint positions and there is more to come.  That means that the problems at Guildford now affect the residents of Waverley.

“Waverley council tax payers are now sharing the costs of the fraud investigations and the duplicate staffing costs.  That cannot be right.  It’s time to stop this ‘collaboration’ and restore the intense focus of a dedicated management team for each council.”

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Responses to Godalming & Ash Candidates Cross Swords Over Council Collaboration

  1. Gareth Archard Reply

    March 29, 2024 at 5:49 pm

    I am in support of well thought out and risk-assessed economies in work organisation, but when it means managers are spread to thin to ensure proper time control on projects it’s false economy.

    In my own experience, activities that should have taken a few weeks have been left to drift for years, due to the lack of sufficient managerial control.

    The cost to the council taxpayers must be significant. This has also had a significant impact to myself and neighbours, with major kicking the can down the road practices.

    The managerial responsibility of asking: “What needs to be done?”, “What is the cost?”, “When will it be delivered?”, “Do we have the resources to deliver on time and budget?”, and “What are the risks?” appear not to be practiced

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