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Letter: Proposed Unitary Authority is Too Big and Comes At the Wrong Time

Published on: 10 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 10 Jul, 2020
From Fiona White
Lib Dem borough councillor for Westborough and county councillor for Guildford West
In response to: Surrey County Council Faces Battle in Bid to Scrap Borough and District Councils
I am very much in favour of unitary authorities. The present arrangement is confusing for local people. A single-tier authority that does everything makes sense.
But I have two major concerns about the proposal for Surrey County Council to swallow up the districts and boroughs.

The first is that the resulting unitary would be far too big, made up of just fewer than 1.2 million residents. By comparison, Buckinghamshire has just more than 550,000 people and will have 149 councillors after May next year.

How many councillors would the proposed new Surrey-wide authority have? Three hundred or more?

My second concern is the timing of such a major change. We are just beginning to recover from a global pandemic. Local authorities, and the NHS, have been in the front line of the fight.

We don’t know what impact there will be on the country’s finances. Our local authorities should be able to concentrate on the recovery programme without the distraction that such a reorganisation would bring.

Ultimately, we do need to look at how local government runs in Surrey. There are a lot of improvements needed. My own preference would be for three or possibly four unitary authorities. But any changes should be made after a real conversation with the county’s residents.

To answer Bill Stokoe’s [chairman, Guildford Vision Group] question in his comment, I assume the properties owned by all the present authorities would create one massive portfolio, run from wherever the new authority is based, assuming they can find a building big enough.

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