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Opinion: Why Do We Need Surrey County Council?

Published on: 21 Nov, 2018
Updated on: 27 Nov, 2018

This is the start of the “second round” in a series of opinion pieces from all the political parties and the Independent councillors who currently form Guildford Borough Council (GBC) in the period running up to the next borough council elections in May 2019. All previous articles in the series can be found here.

We are grateful to all the participants for agreeing to take part. Our aim is to allow our readers to hear from local politicians directly and become better informed of the political choice they have…

Tom Hunt

By Tom Hunt
vice-chair, Guildford Liberal Democrats

Over the last few years, the Conservative-led Surrey County Council has proved utterly incapable of managing Surrey.  The state of the roads is appalling, the county’s provision of children’s services remains inadequate according to Ofsted, and the council is currently consulting on the proposed closure of a number of Sure Start children’s centres.  The list goes on.

Last week, it was confirmed that the leader of the council, Cllr David Hodge would step down after seven years at the helm.  In his resignation speech, he claimed that Surrey had lost £230m of funding since 2009. The council has undoubtedly faced budget challenges for a number of years, and residents have seen services pruned, rationed and cut altogether.

But why do we need Surrey County Council at all?  Last week, a letter was published on The Dragon making the case for unitary authorities in Surrey. If implemented, the result would be the abolition of Surrey County Council and the eleven borough councils within Surrey, replaced by a number of new unitaries that would provide all services.

Removing a layer of government would certainly generate cost savings by avoiding the need for duplicate resources.  It would also allow local government in Surrey to become more joined-up, and therefore more cost-effective. Currently, for example, local recycling centres are owned by Surrey County Council.

The introduction of charges to use these recycling centres (the Tory “tip tax”) has led to an increase in fly-tipping across Surrey, but it is borough councils who bear the cost of clearing up the fly-tipping.  So, notwithstanding any rebate claimed by the borough councils, Surrey County Council must be very pleased with the tip tax, but it has created more cost for Surrey councils than revenue collected, the hallmark of many bad ideas!

Surrey County Council’s latest planned budget cuts, a £200m slash, will involve the closure of two of the five children’s centres in Guildford Borough (Boxgrove Children’s Centre in Guildford and St Paul’s C of E Sure Start Centre in Tongham) and downgrading the status of the Ash Grange Centre to a satellite.

Cutting these services will inevitably damage the life chances of young children, especially those from families in need, and like the fly-tipping example above, will create additional cost elsewhere, as schools and the NHS have to deal with issues that could otherwise have been prevented.

A unitary authority, with responsibility for all local services, would be much better placed to make sensible, cost-effective and joined-up decisions for the benefit of all local residents.  The only downside is that a few highly paid Conservative councillors might find themselves surplus to requirements.

Guildford Liberal Democrats support the abolition of Surrey County Council and the creation of unitary councils for Surrey. Not only would this realise cost savings, allowing funding for services currently under threat to be protected, but it would also allow decision making to be made at a level closer to the residents that such decisions would impact.

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test 4 Responses to Opinion: Why Do We Need Surrey County Council?

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 21, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    I could as easily pose the question: why do we need Guildford Borough Council?

    Given the Tory leadership’s total dominance, they do little or nothing for residents, preferring to spend their time and energy with developers.

    We’d be better off diverting our council taxes to parish councils, who are truly committed to localism.

    Think of how much we’d save on the army of officers, and lawyers at Millmead.

  2. John Perkins Reply

    November 23, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    I find myself in agreement with Tom Hunt, except for the replacement of the borough councils by unitary authorities.

    Is there any practical difference between borough, district and unitary authorities?

    It must be simpler and less disruptive just to get rid of SCC.

  3. Fiona White Reply

    November 24, 2018 at 7:50 am

    In reply to John Perkins, unitary authorities are just one tier of local government instead of two (except where there are town or parish councils which are very local). Therefore, it means that residents know exactly who does what. It is “the council”.

    Even better, instead of 12 local authorities with their own staff, you have either two or three depending on how the unitaries are organised. That has to cut down on backroom staff leaving more money for frontline services. I don’t know how many councillors there are across Surrey and many of them are already dual-hatted, but it should be possible to reduce those numbers as well.

    Fiona White is the Lib Dem borough council for Guildford West.

  4. Brian Creese Reply

    November 27, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    I am delighted to see Tom Hunt and Fiona White are finally supporting Labour’s policy on removing an unnecessary layer of administration from Surrey’s overblown local government.

    As our county councillor, Robert Evans, has been saying for some years, we have 12 civic centres, 12 CEOs, 12 teams of officers and 600 paid councillors and yet the county council wants to close essential services.

    Robert forced a debate on this issue at County Hall last year but his motion was easily defeated by the Tory majority. (see http://www.farnhamherald.com/article.cfm?id=117263&headline=Labour%20leader%20argues%20for%20change%20in%20local%20government%20organisation&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2017)

    Brian Creese is the vice chair of Guildford Labour

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