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Opinion: Lib Dem Leader Reeves Reveals How and Why Council Powers Are Being Shared

Published on: 11 May, 2020
Updated on: 12 May, 2020

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Caroline Reeves, leader of Guildford Borough Council’s Lib Dem group, accepted The Dragon invitation to respond to the Opinion piece by R4GV leader Joss Bigmore 

The results of the borough elections in May 2019 were a surprise for many across the country. Guildford found itself in a situation of “no overall control”  which, after many years of large Conservative majorities, was a major change.

On our borough council, one party needs 25 seats to have a majority in any vote, so a majority of one for the Liberal Democrats meant a likelihood of political debate and voting out-weighing the important work any local authority has to do.

Having been appointed council leader by winning a council vote, I set about appointing a new Executive leadership team. I had very mixed responses to my decision to include other parties in the numbers. Some wanted to know why the Executive wasn’t all Liberal Democrat councillors, and others why the Executive wasn’t equally split between the two majority parties.

Creating a totally new Executive leadership team is daunting…

Creating a totally new Executive leadership team is daunting, especially when some of the new members are also new councillors. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have recently stood down. The work done by the Executive in its first year has been extensive as can be seen in the attached list of achievements.

We have covered climate change and the environment, housing & community, economy & regeneration and an improved council. We were of course, initially, working to an existing corporate plan, reflecting the priorities of the previous (Conservative) administration.

The new corporate plan, created through consultation with every elected member regardless of party, was being completed when the pandemic struck. The key work for the new Executive team will be the creation of a recovery plan for the borough and this work will start immediately.

The new Executive will also be the first to benefit from the major changes being brought in through the Future Guildford project. Specifically, the project was set up to solve an £8 million to £10 million budget gap due to lack of funding from central government, increasing costs, plus the need to increase income levels and to improve the management of the council. It has been invaluable.

We inherited a structure and management that had grown organically over time without the major reviews that are more common in private practice. The computer systems lack the regular reviews and upgrades found in other businesses and have become antiquated. The major decision to review and replace much of the existing system and hardware had already been taken and was accelerated by the new Liberal Democrat administration.

Had this not happened, the council would have been paralysed by Covid-19 and the need to work from home. To the benefit of the new Executive leadership team, this also means we will be able to have much more agile working across all the departments as the new computer systems are installed.

The work ahead for the new Executive team is daunting, needing to be dealt with in a positive, forward-thinking and collaborative way. Recovery will be challenging, not just for us but across the county and country as a whole, in so many different ways.

…now is not the time for political game playing…

So now is not the time for political game-playing. Now is the time to support the businesses and residents of Guildford.

Some have asked me why I chose this moment to reorganise the Executive and the answer is simple. In the original discussions with R4GV I gave my word that I would. Now we need to continue to support the communities and businesses of the borough through what will undoubtedly be difficult and sometimes stressful times.

But it is much better to be doing this collectively and for the benefit of all than in conflicting political groups. We have seen the amazing response from all the volunteers who have worked so hard to keep our communities together, now we need to continue that spirit to work together within the council.

See also: R4GV Leader Thanks Lib Dems and Pledges New Skills to Kickstart Future For Guildford

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