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SCC’s Oliver Denies ‘Power-Grab’, Says They Already Serve 1.2m Residents

Published on: 6 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 6 Sep, 2020

Cllr Tim Oliver

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver has denied his plan for a single unitary authority, which would be the biggest in England, is a “Conservative power-grab”, an accusation by some leaders of the 11 borough and district councils that would disappear.

“This is not about any one authority getting more power,” he said. “This is about how we deliver the statutory services local government has to deliver, and how to do that with real local engagement.”

Cllr Oliver (Con, Weybridge) said he did not understand the need to break up the county into smaller areas, adding that this would not save as much money. “What the government has seen is that small unitaries don’t really produce those greater efficiencies.

See also: Grassroots Campaign to Fight SCC ‘Power-Grab’ Plan For Single Unitary Authority

“The county council already delivers all children’s services and all adult services to 1.2 million residents so actually, in some respects, all this would be doing is adding on some of those responsibilities that sit with the districts and boroughs, so it’s not as if we’re not already looking after 1.2 million residents.”

But Runnymede borough councillor Don Whyte (Lib Dem, Longcross, Lyne and Chertsey South), said: “The thing is, what Surrey do, they don’t do well. They’ve had some really bad reports over the years from the regulator [Ofsted].”

Waverley Borough Council leader John Ward (Farnham Residents, Farnham Shortheath and Boundstone) denounced the Oliver unitary plan. “It is far too big, it would be a disaster,” he said. “It’s totally and utterly unrealistic, a power-grab by Surrey that should be resisted at all costs.

“Smaller ones would be closer to the people, more responsive to their needs and more familiar with what’s going on.”

Nick Prescot, chair of Surrey Leaders’ Group. Photo Julie Armstrong

Surrey Leaders Group, made up of the elected heads of all 11 boroughs and districts, agree two or three unitaries would be better. Group chairman Nick Prescot (Con, Englefield Green West), leader of Runnymede Borough Council, said they were keen for residents to have a say in where boundaries might fall.

The group believes three unitaries could each have 80 councillors representing 400,000 people, one councillor per 5,000 people. One option for a single unitary is 162 councillors, one per 7,400 people. The 11 borough and district councils have a combined total of 470 seats, one for every 2,550.

One proposal is for Surrey to be divided into three unitary authorities.

One popular suggestion was to have Surrey Heath, Runnymede, Spelthorne, and Elmbridge as one area in the north of the county, Woking, with Guildford and Waverley, and a third made up of Mole Valley, Epsom and Ewell, Reigate, Banstead and Tandridge.

Woking Borough Councillor Ann-Marie Barker (Lib Dem group leader, Goldsworth Park) thought Woking could also fit well with Guildford, Waverley and Surrey Heath.

At present, Birmingham, with a population of 1.14 million, is the sole principal local authority serving the greatest number of people in England.

An Oliver unitary would be twice the size of the next biggest, Cornwall, prompting fears that councillors would be too remote from the people they are supposed to serve.

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test 2 Responses to SCC’s Oliver Denies ‘Power-Grab’, Says They Already Serve 1.2m Residents

  1. David Roberts Reply

    September 8, 2020 at 5:22 pm

    Whatever happens, could the eastern part of Guildford Borough please be separated from the western, urban part, whose larger population has led to rural concerns being so poorly understood or represented by the Guildford Council executive?

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 9, 2020 at 5:48 am

    I second that. The eastern villages have been ill-served by successive leaderships at GBC, mostly made up of very parochial councillors from the west of the borough and the town.

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