Fringe Box



Opinion: The New GBC Executive – A Review

Published on: 22 May, 2016
Updated on: 31 May, 2016

committee 1By Martin Giles

Regular readers will recall that The Guildford Dragon NEWS had to rely on other local media as our sources of information regarding the slightly reshuffled Guildford Borough Council (GBC) Executive.

It seems that the council leadership might have thought that because our forecast had been so accurate we did not need to be told about the changes, so they went off to the Surrey Advertiser and, what seems to be their preferred medium, Eagle Radio.

Opinion Logo 1We think that is a bit of an insult to you, our readers, perhaps some of the most interested in local council affairs. It is hard to imagine the government’s press office saying: “Let’s not tell The Independent of the cabinet reshuffle.”

Anyway, because of our forecast, and our ability to quickly report news from all sources, you were in the know quicker than most, quicker than some councillors actually, who were understandably a bit miffed.

And what should we make of our new leading councillors? They do work hard for us and for less than generous allowances but here is my, somewhat irreverent, opinion:

Cllr Paul Spooner

Cllr Paul Spooner

Paul Spooner (Ash South & Tongham) – council leader, planning and regeneration
It was hardly a contest when he took over from his erstwhile close ally, Stephen Mansbridge, last October. A long queue did not form to throw their hats in the ring and Dennis Paul (Con, Holy Trinity) was never a serious contender.

Cllr Spooner is a man under pressure with a crucial vote on the revised Local Plan, due at a full council meeting next Tuesday (May 24).

Are cracks appearing in his Tory group’s normally disciplined ranks? As well as the well known rebel Cllr Bob McShee (Worplesdon), Cllr Matthew Sarti (Clandon & Horsley) publicly reminded his fellow party members, during a council meeting, that they had stood for election on a policy of protecting the green belt last May.

Cllr David Bilbé (see below) has also openly questioned the inclusion of parts of the green belt in Normandy as a proposed strategic site in The Dragon, despite his promotion to the Executive; other councillors might also be looking over their shoulders, wary of a lack of support for such proposals in other parts of the borough.

If the vote is won it will be interesting to see how much Tory dissent is revealed and how much effect the views collected in the ensuing limited public consultation will have. In the less likely scenario that the vote is lost Paul Spooner’s very future as leader might be at stake.

Cllr Matt Furniss.

Cllr Matt Furniss.

Matt Furniss (Christchurch) – council deputy leader, infrastructure and governance
The new deputy leader is a young man on a mission. But what is the mission? Is it just to be the GBC council leader, as predicted by the current leader Cllr Spooner? It is hard to believe that he would be satisfied with being a borough council leader having got so far, so quickly.

I suspect he might still have parliamentary ambitions and would not criticise him if he has. As a character, he is a bit Marmite. But then so is Boris. Anyway, love him or hate him it will be interesting to watch his progression.

In the meantime, his infrastructure portfolio presents a daunting challenge. If he can do anything to significantly ease Guildford’s chronic traffic problems while lots more houses are built, or preferably before, he will certainly be worthy of some respect.

Cllr Michael Illman

Cllr Michael Illman

Michael Illman (Shalford) – finance
Our new finance man is a bit of a dark horse. There were no real signs that he was about to be elevated. His registered career interest appears to be in landscape gardening but Paul Spooner told the Surrey Advertiser Michael is a lawyer by trade. Let’s hope he knows one end of a spread sheet from the other.

He is in the lucky position of taking over a well run ship from Nigel Manning (Ash Vale) who, we have been told, will still be keeping a fatherly eye on things while doing his mayoral stint. He can also rely on some skilful council officers. But there will remain challenges ahead with the continued squeeze being applied from central government.

Cllr Richard Billington

Cllr Richard Billington

Richard Billington (Tillingbourne) – rural economy, countryside, parks and leisure
Cllr Billington used to be a friend of The Dragon. But no longer it seems. Sigh. He doesn’t call, doesn’t phone. Doesn’t even return our calls. Not even the odd angry text message. But we don’t hold a grudge.

The parks are one of his responsibilities and he is overseeing a great job being done there. We are unsure of Cllr Billington’s horticultural pedigree but we suspect he is often out there, lending a hand, working undercover with his dibber to make sure the floral displays remain tip-top.

As “countryside” is part of his portfolio will Richard be standing in front of the green belt if the bulldozers move in? Probably not.

Cllr David Bilbe

Cllr David Bilbé

David Bilbé (Normandy) – economic development
Cllr Bilbé, in a previous election, stood as an independent but must have seen the (blue) light on the road to Millmead.

His leadership qualities are apparent but many in Normandy are not happy about proposals to build on green belt land, so how he represents his constituents’ interests while a member of the Executive will be worth watching. His recent frank statement to The Dragon seems to indicate that he will not be scared to stand up for his ward.

Paul Spooner is on record as saying David is a “good team player” but if push comes to shove which team will take precedence?

As for his portfolio just how much economic development our borough needs, or can tolerate, remains an interesting question.

Cllr Geoff Davis

Cllr Geoff Davis

Geoff Davis (Holy Trinity) – asset management
Geoff has oodles of self respect but he seems to be a sensitive soul who didn’t like my previous criticism of the role he played with Guildford Museum.

Luckily, a report by council officer James Whiteman, director of environment, brought things back on track and the museum’s future looks rosier now.

Wisely, Paul Spooner has considered that Geoff has done such a good job that he should handover the heritage and culture stuff to someone else. He is experienced in managing property assets so will now concentrate on sweating those owned by the council.

Cllr Davis has several property assets in Guildford himself, as can be seen seen in his register of interests on the GBC website. He has other property assets too, so is a real property man.

Cllr Nikki Nelson-Smith

Cllr Nikki Nelson-Smith

Nikki Nelson-Smith – internal business systems, heritage and the arts
Nikki is half Swiss (good bankers, of course) and a qualified economist, so I thought she might be a “shoe in” for the finance job. But instead she is taking over the heritage and culture responsibilities from Geoff Davis plus, and rather intriguingly, “internal business systems”, probably, in the main, the council’s, security conscious, IT. (All emails have to be classified to show whether we are allowed to see them).

Will the return to normal council work after her, by common consent, very successful mayoral year, be an anti-climax? Perhaps her promotion will be sufficient recompense. Realising the museum’s potential, alone, could be a rewarding challenge.

In her spare time perhaps she could give the GBC website a facelift – or is that communications? Anyway, someone should look at those too.

Cllr Graham Ellwood

Cllr Graham Ellwood

Graham Ellwood (Merrow) – licensing and community safety
I tend to have a natural sympathy for any man with less hair than me.

Cllr Ellwood has Blofeld looks but is this, somewhat mystery man, really a James Bond, licensed to licence, with an undercover role of protecting lollipop ladies and ensure other aspects of community safety?

Perhaps one day he will parachute, Bond style, with The Queen, down to open the County Show.

Licensing, of course, can be a tricky portfolio especially with so many apparently unhappy taxi drivers. But what this sketchy profile really shows is that I don’t know Cllr Ellwood, the only Executive member to also be a county councillor, as well as I should. I must try harder.

Cllr Iseult Roche.

Cllr Iseult Roche

Iseult Roche (Worplesdon) – community, health and sport
Cllr Roche might want to discuss with Cllr Bilbe about dealing with constituents unhappy with Local Plan proposals while you are a member of the Executive overseeing the policy.

When it comes to her parish councillors Cllr Roche seems to find that the best way is simply to avoid them; she has not been to a parish council meeting for some time, according to the Worplesdon Parish Council records.

But with a windfall £250,000 identified as spare money in a neglected corner of the council’s coffers one of her schemes, Project Aspire, has some cash for worthy community causes. Good news. But not all are fans of the Dragons’ Den-style bidding process, with a panel of local “celebrities”, to be used for the majority of those seeking the cash. I suppose it could have been worse – X Benefactor, Strictly Come Bidding or even I’m a worthy cause, get me outta here?

Cllr Tony Rooth

Cllr Tony Rooth

Tony Rooth (Pilgrims) – housing and social welfare
The former council leader, ejected in 2012 by Stephen Mansbridge, is the elder statesman on the Executive. Cllr Rooth has received a vocation to help out those even older than himself in our borough. Good for him.

He took over housing from the well respected Sarah Creedy, a hard act to follow. But Tony also seems determined to do what he can to make houses affordable for those towards the other end of the age spectrum. That’s good too, even if we can hear the Mission Impossible music playing.

More social housing seems to be a plea from many quarters but how many will he be able to produce? Any efforts deserve our support.

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Responses to Opinion: The New GBC Executive – A Review

  1. Gordon Bridger Reply

    May 23, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    Congratulations for giving us for, I think the first time at least in my living memory (some 50 years), a council with a human face.

    Residents know too little about who represents them and these well written and entertaining accounts should be welcomed by councillors and residents alike. We need more.

  2. Andrew Whitby-Collins Reply

    May 23, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    Do I detect the whiff of sour grapes? And there seems to be just a touch of wishful thinking to compare The Dragon to The Independent, even in its reduced state.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      May 24, 2016 at 8:19 am

      Sour grapes? No.

      Private Eye thinks The Dragon is good – quite a compliment.

      So here’s to Guildford’s own truly free press and long may it continue.

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