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Leaked Document Shows County Council Plan to Take More Power

Published on: 27 Sep, 2021
Updated on: 27 Sep, 2021

Council Leader Tim Oliver and Opposition Leader Eber Kington are on record as having opposing views over a “County Deal”

By Martin Giles

Opposition parties are worried that a new “County Deal”, as proposed in a confidential document leaked to the Guildford Dragon NEWS, is another attempt to centralise power in the county council leadership following their aborted attempt to form a single unitary authority for the whole of Surrey in 2020.

Surrey County Council has expressed an interest in Surrey being considered by the government as a County Deal pilot area.

The proposed new structure, led through a “strong leader” model, is outlined in the document with a multi-agency Surrey Forum, meeting quarterly and chaired by the county council leader, currently Conservative Tim Oliver.

All representatives would be empowered to make recommendations to the county council on strategic priorities, resource allocation and the content and delivery of the County Deal.

A Lib Dem county councillor said: “It’s the county council which will decide what happens, with the forum only allowed to recommend strategic priorities.” And one county councillor, from the Independent group at SCC, said: “It’s the unitary authority proposal by the back door.”

Included in the draft proposal is that permission be obtained to raise five new taxes:

  • A new, additional county-wide infrastructure levy
  • A new two per cent business rate precept on local businesses
  • An additional council tax precept
  • A tourist or overnight tax
  • The ability to create “Community Improvement Districts” where households within existing Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) would pay a new levy.

General powers would also be sought to raise more money and to take over control of infrastructure funds and to replace the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

In an email containing the draft document, sent to all county councillors, the SCC leader wrote:

“Dear all,
“I am writing to you to update you on the work that Surrey County Council has undertaken on a potential County Deal.
“It is early days in this process and as such the detail of any potential agreement is still being worked through. We are also unsure whether Surrey will be approached to be a pilot area or what the levelling up white paper will include in its details.

“However, we have been working hard with Districts and Boroughs and other partners to produce a draft of a proposal paper to form the basis of any discussion with government (attached along with our proposed strategic governance structure). Please note that this paper is still in draft form and subject to change as we continue to engage with partners and government.”

Within the introduction, the document states: “At the heart of County Deals will be powers and resources, along with additional freedoms and flexibilities, devolved to counties to facilitate accelerated economic growth, the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities and protection and enhancement of our towns, villages and countryside as well as the wider environment.

“To deliver that ambition to the best of our ability, we need the new freedoms, flexibilities and powers.”

The ‘Surrey Forum’

The new forum will consist of the following offices which are directly appointed or would be selected by the county council:

  • County Council Leader
  • County Council CEO
  • Chief Fire Officer
  • Business representatives
  • Community, voluntary and faith representatives

And it will also include representation from the following:

  • Boroughs and districts
  • Town and parish councils
  • Surrey MPs
  • Surrey PCC
  • Surrey Chief Constable
  • NHS Integrated Care Board Chair and CEO
  • Universities in Surrey
  • Further Education colleges in Surrey
  • Probation Service

Economic growth is top of a list of strategic aims. By 2030, under the proposal the objective would be to “grow a sustainable economy from which everyone can benefit”. The council would together with the new forum “deliver high-quality jobs and continue to drive the economy through sustainable growth. Our reimagined towns will be high quality and visionary places and our approach will ensure that the benefits of growth are available to everyone.”

According to the draft document: “Surrey’s economy is, outside of London, the only one in the UK that makes a net contribution (approximately £7.5 billion per annum) to the national exchequer. The continued economic success of Surrey is therefore of national significance, especially in the context of providing funding to support a nation-wide levelling up agenda.”

Nothing is mentioned in the document about public consultation or about the costs associated with the proposal and the subject of council reorganisation was not raised during the county council election campaign in the spring.

In August, Cllr Eber Kington (RA, Ewell Court, Auriol & Cuddington) said he thought Cllr Oliver should have made the direction of local government an election issue, adding: “That way voters could decide but he chose not to.”

The former Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, in a letter to local council leaders, said applicants for the “County Deals” pilot scheme that have the clearest, most innovative and readily deliverable proposals that support levelling up will be prioritised. Proposals will be expected to provide strong local leadership alongside effective local scrutiny to help residents know who to hold accountable for local delivery.

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Responses to Leaked Document Shows County Council Plan to Take More Power

  1. Keith Francis Reply

    September 28, 2021 at 11:42 am

    Sorry but I have no trust in Surrey County Council, its Leader Tim Oliver, or the other county councillors. I put forward a parking matter for approval at the Mole Valley Local Committee meeting, but after over nine months it is more interested in removing two disabled car parking spaces and installing two EV charging points in their place outside a village’s Sainsbury’s Local.

    So how long do they expect car drivers to stop to shop and plug-in?

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