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Opinion: The Annual Parish Meeting is Not a Political Platform

Published on: 3 Jun, 2022
Updated on: 7 Jun, 2022

Julie Iles

By Julie Iles

Former Conservative county councillor for The Horsleys

Our East Horsley Parish Council meeting was billed as an opportunity for residents to hear updates on the work of our county and borough councillors and for residents to ask questions.

Predictably the R4GV (Residents for Guildford & Villages) councillors lamented their difficulties in making any change to the Local Plan and the best indication of any meaningful review was that it would be in 2024.

How convenient that this falls after their next election cycle. I hope residents will remember their pledge in their 2019 manifesto, that they would “amend the Local Plan with 4,000 more houses on our countryside than required, even by its’ own inflated estimate”.

I questioned them as to why they missed the opportunity for a proper review predicated on the A3 improvements not making it into the Roads and Infrastructure schedule of work.

Further, I asked why two of their own councillors voted for another 100 houses to be built as part of the Berkeley Homes development at The Howard of Effingham – that’s on top of the 300 that are already approved.

Cllr Colin Cross (R4GV borough and county councillor) used the platform to make a party-political broadcast for R4GV. He cited many examples of SCC’s failures seemingly oblivious that he is now our representative on that authority. It would have been much more useful had he outlined the issues, said what he intends to do about them and what he is currently working on in the Horsleys.

Also, many of his claims were factually inaccurate, so I feel compelled to correct them. And please understand I do this as someone who is no longer a member of Conservative Party.

Cllr Cross included the following points: He stated that SCC is badly run both financially and politically. If he says this often enough it will perhaps help the opposition to obtain a swing from the Conservative administration at the next election. Never mind if it isn’t true.

The Conservative Group successfully passed its £1,042 million budget for 2022/23 but Colin Cross voted against the budget which included: investing £46.5 million to improve mental health provision across Surrey, boosting investment into Surrey’s roads by £125 million for local highway schemes, investing £470 million to deliver a sustainable, greener future to tackle the climate emergency, and delivering a further 872 specialist school places from 2023.

He was specific in claiming that SCC made a £20 million net loss on the office move from Kingston to Reigate. He also talked about the office sitting in 34 acres that it was 75 per cent empty.

After more than 50 years in Kingston the civic building and Surrey staff are now back in Surrey. The Reigate site presents an opportunity to develop additional care, supported living and/or education provision.

The Kingston site was sold for a substantial receipt and because it was a complex and expensive to run. Being a Grade 1 listed asset, the relocation will save money and reduce the carbon footprint.

Highways came in for the usual criticism not least because of a recent restructure. But that new structure is increasing capacity to design and deliver highway improvement schemes.

Cllr Cross could have taken the opportunity to deliver positive news for The Horsleys and surrounding areas in Send such as:

  • £1 million per year for three years proposed investment in road safety and speed management at A247 Clandon Road junction;
  • the A3 southbound slip;
  • the Send redesign at the junction with single entry to A3 slip; and
  • £1 million per year for three years proposed investment in “Road Safety Outside School” schemes including a Toucan crossing at Send Primary School and two raised road tables at St Lawrence of Effingham school.

As with his election literature, Cllr Cross claimed that SCC has more than 100 officers who each earn more than £100k per annum. But the major transformation programmes have delivered efficiencies of over £250 million in three years and it is important that the right people with the right skills and experience are retained to deliver this important work.

In fact, the number of FTE equivalent personnel employed by the council has decreased by around 500 in the last four years and in the 2021/22 budget statements the leader of one of the minority opposition groups, Cllr Nick Darby, referenced the number of officers earning over £100k totalling just 26.

It is worth highlighting too that senior pay is always decided by democratically elected councillors in an open and transparent way and it gives officers a fair market salary.

When asked about school places, it was left to Cllr Catherine Young (GGG, Clandon & Horsley) to explain about demographic changes and school place planning data. However, it did present Cllr Cross with the opportunity to lambast SCC for the closure of Ripley Primary School.

It’s not particularly relevant to the residents of East Horsley but it’s worth noting that numbers fell at the school as a result of the inadequate Ofsted rating and whilst SCC are the owner of the playground and fields any future use of the school is now subject to agreement between the trustees and the Diocese as it was formerly part of the Good Shepherd Trust.

Political point-scoring should have no place at parish council meetings but at least should be based on facts. Cllr Cross should take note because residents of The Horsleys deserve better.

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test 4 Responses to Opinion: The Annual Parish Meeting is Not a Political Platform

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    June 3, 2022 at 1:25 pm

    “Highways came in for the usual criticism not least because of a recent restructure. But that new structure is increasing capacity to design and deliver highway improvement schemes”.

    I guess no one has read the Surrey Transport plan – 3.11.2 page 87 sic: “Therefore, in most cases, there will not be a case for investing in new road capacity as experience shows this actually increases traffic levels and emissions”

    Noting 47,500 additional people to move around our Housing Market area; so in reality a decrease in capacity available per person and pre-planned degradation of our transport system.

  2. Gavin Morgan Reply

    June 3, 2022 at 9:29 pm

    The best way to remove political comments from parish meetings is to remove political parties. Just change the constitution so that all candidates stand as individuals serving their community.

    • John Perkins Reply

      June 6, 2022 at 9:49 am

      The same goes for all local authorities. Replace First Past The Post by Single Transferable Vote (as used in NI and Scotland) and the problems associated with party politics tend to disappear. Of course, it requires the consent of the very parties that benefit from FPTP.

  3. David Roberts Reply

    June 4, 2022 at 6:42 pm

    Ms Iles might have made it clear that she bears Cllr Cross absolutely no grudge for having defeated her in the least County Council election.

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