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Letter: The Proposed County Deal Will Only Increase Confusion About Local Democracy Structure

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

From: Brian Creese

Chairman of Guildford Labour

In response to: Leaked Document Shows County Council Plan to Take More Power

The document forwarded to me by Guildford Dragon has left me quite astonished. It is hard to believe that we had an election just a few months ago for the county council and yet there was never a mention of any of these ambitious and far reaching plans. Has all this really been dreamed up since May?

There are many good words here, most devoted to how the County Deal is going to help drive a response to the climate crisis, business innovation and better transport, but I am unconvinced that these are any more than an attempt to justify a massive power grab from the council leader. My understanding is that this proposal has not been discussed at all in council and has come from the leadership team with no consultation.

There is no suggestion within the document that any of these proposals might be subject to a democratic vote – as it would be if a metro mayor was proposed. Instead, we see a whittling away of local democratic control by something termed the “strong council leader model”.

It means less power for our borough, and more for the SCC leader. I also note the suggestion that the county council is looking to acquire greater revenue-raising powers, again not something I recall from the Conservative manifesto at the last election.

My main criticism, however, is that it is repeating the errors from the leader Tim Oliver’s last attempt at reform, when he proposed a county-wide unitary authority. Surrey is a geographically large county which stretches from the outer-London urban areas of Staines and Ashford through to the rural downs of Tandridge.

Surrey Labour Party has consistently proposed three or four smaller unitaries of around 400,000 residents around a coherent geographical area – probably based around Staines, Guildford and Reigate.

This would achieve massive savings as we currently pay for 12 council offices, 12 CEO and, 12 sets of councillors which provide two or even three tiers of administration with few residents actually knowing who is responsible for what. But this new County Deal looks set to only increase that confusion.

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