Fringe Box



Opinion: I Wish the New Council Good Luck, They’ll Need It!

Published on: 15 May, 2023
Updated on: 17 May, 2023

Cllr Joss Bigmore

By Joss Bigmore

As votes were counted, revealing who would be Guildford’s borough councillors for the next four years, only cruel fate prevented me from taking my proper place to congratulate the successful candidates and celebrate or commiserate with my dedicated, hard-working and talented R4GV colleagues.

Instead, I was stuck face down recuperating from an emergency operation to save my sight. All told, it was a frustrating moment to be a party leader.

Unless you’ve been part of an election campaign, you can’t even remotely appreciate all the effort each and every candidate – and their party team – puts into one.

From summoning the considerable courage to put your name forward, developing an inspiring manifesto, fundraising, designing and delivering leaflets, listening to as many constituents as you can, to then undertaking to knock on every door in your ward/borough – we are an incredibly fortunate borough that so many are willing to step up to serve our community.

shameful behaviour during the campaign threatened the very fabric of our local democracy”

The overwhelming majority of candidates from all the parties ran positive campaigns and, on behalf of R4GV, I congratulate them on their success and am looking forward to working with them.

Regarding that minority whose highly shameful behaviour during the campaign threatened the very fabric of our local democracy, representations are being made to the relevant bodies.

The Conservative online newsletter in which Keith Witham the Tory candidate for Normandy & Pirbright recommended readers viewed the controversial Battle for Guildford video. Other Conservatives privately distanced themselves but said nothing publicly.

Our borough faces a very daunting future with significant challenges ahead, so the campaign should have been about robustly testing each party’s proffered solutions.

The 13-storey building that was part of the refused North Street Proposal

Unfortunately, it ended up being about one issue. Whether one of the North Street buildings should be 13- or 11-storeys high will seem irrelevant to residents once they start feeling the considerable impact of the measures that our council will need to take over the next few months.

…it ended up being about one issue. Whether one of the North Street buildings is 13 or 11 stories’ high…”

By 2027, Guildford Borough Council needs to find almost £20 million in budget savings. Inadequate government support during the pandemic and rampant inflation have led to dwindling council reserves – and councils can’t run a budget deficit. It is not allowed.

In February, the Liberal Democrats – alongside a majority of the council – committed to say in July what measures will be needed to balance the books. That means finding over £3 million of budget cuts or extra revenues in the next couple of months.

Inevitably,  there will have to be immediate cuts to discretionary services as the council struggles to maintain essential, statutory services and nurture the sustainable economic growth essential to supporting residents and businesses – and all without reneging on our vital climate change goals.

So which services might face the chop?

  • Will the Liberal Democrats close Guildford Museum?
  • Will they maintain all those energy-hungry facilities at Spectrum Leisure Centre?
  • Can they continue to provide fortnightly bin collections?
  • Or will they outsource services – as they do at Waverley Borough Council?

And let’s not forget the growing debt mountain around the council’s £0.75 billion capital programme which, whilst not the size of Woking’s, has the potential (due to the sharp increases in interest rates) to force the council to issue a Section 114 notice as a bankrupt authority.

Further pressing issues (to name but a few!) will also be in inboxes to trouble the new Executive:

  • Will the highly flawed Local Plan be meaningfully updated? If not, how will they deliver their promised height policy?
  • What of the commitment to “Shaping Guildford’s Future”?
  • And what to do about the hated three-hour minimum charge for parking?

All this is going to require skill, a deftness of touch and clear decision-making; there will be no honeymoon for those newly elected.

For Guildford’s sake, all at R4GV wish Cllr McShane and her team well in their attempt to tackle these and many other monumental tasks ahead.

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