Fringe Box



Opinion: The System Is Simply Not Working

Published on: 6 Jul, 2023
Updated on: 7 Jul, 2023

Brian Creese

By Brian Creese

Former chair of Guildford Labour

It is now two months since the Guildford Borough Council elections and a month since I stood down as chair of the Guildford Labour Party. I am hoping that this “free time” will give me more opportunity to reflect on local politics.

So far my main reflection is simply that local politics doesn’t work. It is not just the dreadful lack of money or the burden of outrageous demands from central government or the impossibility of balancing the books – the system simply does not work.

Let me go back a few weeks to the Environmental Hustings at Zero Carbon. This was a pretty friendly affair with large-scale agreement between the parties. Except nothing has actually been done to address climate change locally.

Why? Because the remit is not in one place. In fact, it is often in lots of places simultaneously.

My own obsession is public transport. To address the issues of air pollution in the centre of Guildford you need fewer petrol and diesel cars going there. The best way to do this is by a mix of carrot and stick.

The stick – less street parking, more expensive parking charges, priority for public transport so cars are last in the queue. The carrot – more frequent and cheaper buses, safer cycleways, and encouragement for EVs (electric vehicles).

Can GBC do this? Well, no. The buses are the responsibility of SCC, car parks are GBC but street parking, and this is bizarre, is SCC again.

Map showing those areas of England that are already unitary authorities but none are as populous as Surrey with its 1.2 million.

I have been banging on about the demise of the Spectrum Park & Ride meaning you can’t get to the Spectrum by bus.

Park & Ride is paid for by GBC but administered by SCC. So who is responsible for its axing?

Potholes in Park Barn (and there are plenty) that’s SCC’s responsibility but air quality on Southway that’s GBC.

It gets worse, as sometimes a local authority is paid by another to do work for them. So the verge cutting in Worplesdon is a parish responsibility but actually done by SCC – or is that the other way round? I really don’t know!

When residents berate their councillors for what has not been happening, it is hardly any wonder that they don’t know who is responsible for what.

Trying to create a joined-up transport approach in the current system is, frankly impossible, which is why the places you go to where transport actually works – Manchester, Reading, Bristol and of course London – are unitary authorities with one line of responsibilities.

A possible division of Surrey into three unitary authorities.

If Surrey had one (or more) unitary authorities one council would not be able to palm off responsibility for parking or potholes or verge trimming to someone else, it would be down to them. No buck passing and every opportunity for joined-up thinking.

At the last SCC elections, I was a lonely, monotonous voice proposing three unitary authorities to replace SCC and create genuine responsibility for the myriad services local authorities provide.

No one was interested then and I doubt they will be in two years’ time when the next elections are held. But at some point I believe residents will realise that the current system is simply not fit for purpose and they have to demand something better.

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Responses to Opinion: The System Is Simply Not Working

  1. John Perkins Reply

    July 6, 2023 at 4:55 pm

    SCC is a very powerful organisation which has already attempted to increase its own authority by taking over the borough councils and forming a single unitary authority. It is no surprise if Brian Crease feels alone in trying to achieve the opposite.

    However, he is not alone, there are many of us who would support the disbanding of SCC.

    My view is that it would be better to start by distributing all their power to the existing boroughs, simultaneously getting rid of the useless parish councils.

  2. Pete Bennett Reply

    July 6, 2023 at 5:54 pm

    I think Brian Creese is partially correct – the money and powers have gradually been stripped away from local government.

    The Lib Dems may have won the crown, but it’s pretty much made of paper. Would it make sense to tear up that crown and merge it with SCC? Certainly some of the inconsistencies that Mr Creese mentions would be removed. But do SCC really have the money to do the things that he would like to see? Almost certainly not.

    I think the bigger problem is stagnation. In the last three elections in GBC we have had three very different results. The same cannot be said of SCC. A job as a Conservative county councillor is pretty much a job for life. Whatever your political persuasion, the threat of losing an election does act as a powerful incentive to actually get out there and listen to your electorate.

  3. Mark Stamp Reply

    July 6, 2023 at 6:25 pm

    As I have become more aware of local politics over the last couple of years, I have to say I agree completely with Mr Creese. There are so many issues falling through the cracks between borough and county.

    A unitary could also mean that we need fewer councillors meaning we could pay the ones that we had more, potentially opening the role to more people.

    If there is a possibility of this happening, hopefully the debate is had before GBC and Waverley finalise plans for new council offices.

  4. David Roberts Reply

    July 7, 2023 at 3:34 pm

    I have long said Surrey should be divided into three unitary authorities. But the boundaries need to be set correctly – not as in the map above. A deep structural problem with Guildford borough is that it is overwhelmingly rural while at least half its residents live in town, calling the shots politically.

    No wonder all new development is being dumped in the villages. No wonder 400 new homes in North Street raises a far bigger public fuss than over 2,000 at Wisley.

    Clearly, urban Woking and Guildford belong together, while the rural parts of Guildford and Waverley boroughs should join Mole Valley.

    • Mike Adams Reply

      July 10, 2023 at 2:58 pm

      Possibly not the best timing to propose Guildford combines with Woking!

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