Fringe Box



Lib Dem County Council Leader Appalled at Decision to Quit LGA

Published on: 29 Mar, 2017
Updated on: 30 Mar, 2017

The leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats at Surrey County Council (SCC), Hazel Watson said she is “appalled” at news that David Hodge, council leader, has given 12 months notice to quit the Local Government Association (LGA).

The LGA describes itself as: “the national voice of local government, working with councils to support, promote and improve local government.”

The move comes in the wake of last week’s announcement by Cllr Hodge that he would step down as leader of the LGA’s Conservative group, following the political row over the so-called Nickileaks affair and allegations that the government was giving SCC a “sweetheart” funding deal to prevent a referendum on a 15% council tax rise.

Writing in The MJ (municipal Journal last week, Cllr Hodge said: “It’s clear others want someone leading the LGA Conservative group with a different approach.”

Letter from David Hodge giving the LGA 12 months notice of SCC’s intention to quit.

A Surrey County Council spokesman said: “Along with many councils up and down the country Surrey is facing huge financial pressures, due to a combination of reducing government grant and increasing demand for vital services, and these pressures are set to continue.

“It is therefore essential we consider every aspect of our spending and that is why we have given notice on our membership of four associations – The Local Government Association, The County Councils Network, South East England Councils and South East Strategic Leaders.

“Giving notice means we will be able to make a final decision in a year’s time – based on the financial position for the council at that time – on whether to leave these associations.”

Several other counties – including Essex, Leicestershire and West Sussex – are said to be reconsidering their membership of the LGA, claiming they have played “second fiddle” to district council interests.

The leader of the Liberal Democrat group at SCC, Hazel Watson.

But the Lib Dem leader at Kingston pulled no punches in her criticism. She said: “I am appalled by this decision. The Local Government Association is the key organisation within local government which enables the county council to lobby central government and make its case for resources and funding.

“The association has helped Surrey to save money, enabling the county council to recover millions of pounds back after the Icelandic banking crash.

“Surrey needs a voice at the top table and this short sighted move takes that voice away. Only three councils in the country are not members of the LGA, so we are moving from the membership of a large and influential group to an isolated position on the fringes.

“Cllr Hodge should have consulted widely within the county council before even considering such a move. Yet again, his poor judgement and secretive leadership style have led to a poor decision being taken unilaterally, which is not in the best interests of the county council or Surrey residents.

“I should not have had to find out about this notice to quit the LGA from external sources. The county council’s membership of the LGA is too important to be decided by one person in such a rash and intemperate way.”

LGA Chairman Lord Porter said: “We have been working hard on behalf of all councils to highlight the financial challenges and the consequences of the funding gaps they face in the years ahead.

“It is normal for councils to look at their membership of the LGA when scrutinising their budgets, given the tough financial climate they all face. As of today, there is only one current member council yet to confirm its membership of the LGA next year.”

Keith Witham the Conservative county councillor for Worplesdon said : “LGA membership costs about £150,000 a year in subs and if SCC wants to save that money it has to give a year’s notice. So this is a precautionary measure and [is not cutting] a front line service.”

SCC has also given notice to the County Councils Network (CCN) a network of 37 county councils and unitary authorities that serve county areas. CCN is a cross party organisation whose views carry particular weight for a large proportion of the country outside the big conurbations.

Share This Post

Responses to Lib Dem County Council Leader Appalled at Decision to Quit LGA

  1. Dennis Harvey-Hepherd Reply

    March 29, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    Does anybody else see a reflection of both Brexit and the Scottish Referendum in this action – a desire in smaller authorities for more power to be passed down from the larger?

    Withdrawal from the LGA and the CCN may save money in the short term. However Surrey will then have to deal with central government on its own, a far weaker and, in the long term, more expensive one.

  2. D Bisdee Reply

    March 31, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    Isn’t it a bit premature anyway to make this decision now, given that the county council elections are only a few weeks away, and the composition of the council could change?

    I would hope that the new council could reconsider this, especially if David Hodge is no longer going to be the Conservative group leader. It does sound like a rather short-sighted decision.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *