Fringe Box



Letter: Is It Time For A Surrey Assembly?

Published on: 19 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 20 Sep, 2014

assemblyFrom George Potter

With the Scottish independence referendum now over, and “Devo Max” for Scotland now pledged by every major party, the discussion urgently needs to be had as to what place England will have in the federal United Kingdom which we seem to be rapidly heading for.

Some have already suggested the idea of an English Parliament and an English First Minister to replicate the structure of the Scottish Parliament. Others, including many Conservatives, seem to be advocating a fudge of a “Grand English Committee” composed of existing English MPs who would handle all matters relating only to England within the existing Westminster parliament.

But I really cannot see what can possibly be gained by replacing a centralised UK parliament governing 64 million people with a centralised English parliament governing 53 million people. London would still grab the lion’s share of resources, sucking in talented people from across the country and increasing pressure on housing and transport infrastructure in the south east. Decisions would still be made remotely in a centralised bureaucracy rather than by local people. And a Grand English Committee sounds even less appealing.

At the same time, England clearly isn’t one cohesive unit. We have more in common than divides us, certainly, and the same can be said for all of Britain, but it’s quite clear that different places have very different needs.

Greater London already has a sort of semi-devolution with a powerful mayor and a weak assembly. Cornwall is clamouring for a Cornish Assembly. Northern cities are objecting to their lack of self government compared with London. And the needs of somewhere like Merseyside clearly have little in common with the needs of Maidstone.

So what would a different form of English devolution look like? One which involves real decentralisation across the whole of our country?

Well Surrey as a whole has a population of 1.1 million people – more than the US state of Montana which has its own elected governor, senate and house of representatives and more than twice the population of the entire country of Luxembourg.

That’s why I’d like to take this opportunity to call for a devolved Surrey Assembly along the Welsh or Scottish model to replace the existing county council with all the borough and district councils being reorganised into unitary authorities. The UK parliament could handle things like defence and macroeconomic policy and the like – but things which directly impact on us would be handled by us.

Imagine for a moment what that might be like. An assembly elected by us and using proportional representation to fairly represent every voter. An assembly with powers to do things which right now are restricted to Whitehall.

With Surrey having control over infrastructure, projects like the Hindhead tunnel wouldn’t take decades to get built and the approval common sense improvements like a Park Barn railway station could easily be implemented. With control over the NHS in Surrey we wouldn’t be restricted to mere protests if the Royal Surrey County Hospital was threatened again; we could just vote out the government of Surrey at the next election. With control over the environment we’d be able to act to prevent flooding based on the kind of local knowledge which central government just doesn’t have.

And, above all, with greater control over taxes raised in Surrey we’d be able to spend our money on the things we decide to spend them on rather than seeing them all disappear into the treasury to be doled out back to us miserly by a chancellor and officials who none of us ever got to vote for.

There would obviously be challenges with any upheaval this big. We’d need to learn how to handle being responsible for our own affairs within the UK as a whole. It wouldn’t all be a walk in the park by any means, but that is not a reason to reject control over our own affairs. After all, if Wales, Scotland, Montana and Luxembourg can manage governing themselves then there’s no reason we couldn’t.

This is why, as a Liberal Democrat I was proud this spring to see us adopt a policy of English devolution on demand. As a party we are now committed to a devolved Cornish Assembly and to enabling any area numbering 1 million people or more in the rest of England to have devolution if they want it.

It’s not a perfect policy by any means. I also expect it will have to change in light of events in Scotland and the increasing calls for a fully federal UK. But I think it’s a good place to start the debate which all of us in England need to have: with the other nations of the UK set to gain more powers, where should England fit in? And what form should the future of our own country take?

George Potter is the secretary of the Guildford Liberal Democrats

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Responses to Letter: Is It Time For A Surrey Assembly?

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    September 19, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    Well it sounds like a good idea but remember:

    – councillors expenses in Surrey;

    – building in the green belt;

    – a central executive ignoring the will of the people in Guildford;

    – the Aldi fiasco where the ‘opposition’ at GBC voted to allow an out of character, over use of a site on a junction which is above capacity – just to prove the planners were in control over the residents;

    – residents of one parish trying to overthrow the democratically elected councillors of another ward.

    We would have to have a sea change in morals and attitudes to democracy of the residents and paid and elected officials to make it work.

    All we need is everyone to register to vote next May and then use it for the common good.

  2. George Potter Reply

    September 20, 2014 at 2:12 am

    Incidentally, just to clarify, this is obviously my personal opinion on the notion of a Surrey Assembly rather than official local Lib Dem policy.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 20, 2014 at 8:32 am

    This is an entirely sensible and timely proposal. Apart from all the other obvious advantages, it would allow Surrey to take control of its own planning policy.

    Home rule for Surrey! Let’s have a referendum.

  4. Bernard Parke Reply

    September 20, 2014 at 11:31 am

    What about “Home Rule for England!” in the form of its own town council?

    This would give Guildford People a voice as enjoyed by the towns in the other boroughs.

    Such a step would help to safeguard their quality of life without the interference of outsiders.

  5. Lisa Wright Reply

    September 20, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    I suspect we won’t be keeping our tax receipts.

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