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Six of the UK’s Most Prosperous Council Areas Are in Surrey

Published on: 21 May, 2021
Updated on: 24 May, 2021

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Living in Surrey has top fringe benefits. Six of the UK’s 10 most prosperous council areas are in the county, a think-tank has found.

Waverley ranks second out of 379 local authorities in a report by the Centre for UK Prosperity. Elmbridge, Epsom and Ewell, Woking, Surrey Heath and Guildford are also all found in the top 10.

The think-tank Legatum Institute’s UK Prosperity Index assesses how each local authority area is performing in institutional, economic and social wellbeing.

Cllr Paul Follows

Cllr Paul Follows, Waverley Borough Council’s new Lib Dem leader, said the research “confirms what we’ve known all along, that Waverley is a fantastic place to live, work, raise children, start a business or just visit to explore our beautiful natural areas”.

He added: “I have also been humbled by the way our communities have rallied to support those most affected by the pandemic over the past 15 months. It is very clear why we score so highly on the social capital pillar.”

Social capital includes trust in institutions, civic participation, social networks, and strong family relationships. The borough also excelled in health, investment environment and natural environment. At 76%, Waverley had one of the highest turnouts in the UK in the 2019 general election.

Cllr Follows said he was surprised by a lower score for personal freedom, which includes tolerance of different ethnicities. This was matched every other area of Surrey.

He said the council had recently created the portfolio of equality, diversity and inclusion so one cabinet member will focus solely on those areas, “in recognition that tolerance is indeed a fundamental aspect of quality of life”.

And he added he is excited to welcome the Surrey Pride main event to Godalming this year.

But of all parts of Surrey, Waverley scored the lowest for infrastructure, which includes transport, utilities and communications.

“This is the key area that requires improvement in our borough,” said Cllr Follows.

“The council introduced the Community Infrastructure Levy on new development in 2019 to address this, and I’ll be challenging the county council and the government on their infrastructure investment criteria, which often means areas such as Waverley are less of a priority.”

Prosperity Table – Click on image to enlarge

Guildford council leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said: “I am very pleased to see Guildford is now ranked 10th in this Prosperity Index, rising from 16th a decade ago.

“The index highlights areas for improvement which is no surprise given the enormous inequalities of opportunity between different parts of our borough.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

“I am concerned that the government’s fixation with ‘levelling up’ the North and South of the UK ignores completely the disparities between communities in Guildford and indeed across the county.

“A life expectancy difference of almost a decade between areas in North and South Guildford is a shocking reminder of how much work we have to do.

“I am not surprised we perform relatively poorly in terms of governance. You only have to look at recent election results to see wholesale dissatisfaction with how we are governed.

“In fact, I think we have done well to score as highly as we have, which is probably testament to the more localism-based approach of the borough authority.”

Infrastructure was the worst-rated category for the South East as a whole, and the only one where the region was below the UK average, with roads more likely than the average region to require maintenance.

But the South East region was number one for not only prosperity overall but also governance, trust in and effectiveness of local government, plus living conditions and health.

Residents tend to enjoy a long life expectancy and there are relatively low rates of mental illness and homelessness. The overall rate of poverty is 18 per cent compared with a UK national average of 22 per cent.

Epsom and Ewell, Reigate and Banstead and Woking all scored highly for living conditions, which includes a physically safe environment and ease of access to local amenities.

Cllr Ayesha Azad

Woking Borough Council leader Ayesha Azad said: “We have striven to improve living conditions through better tenants’ services and regeneration and look after people’s health. I’m pleased this is reflected in the study.

“This study also tells us Woking is going in the right direction because over the past decade, we have moved from seventh to fifth-best overall.”

But the South East lagged behind the South West, East of England and London for tolerance and in natural environment, which includes management of waste and flooding as well as exposure to air pollution.

It is also behind those three regions in enterprise conditions, which include support for small and medium business, although this may reflect having the second-highest property costs in the country, and in economic quality, which involves the proportion of private sector companies with high research and development spending.

According to the dataset, the worst Surrey area for enterprise conditions is Epsom and Ewell, though the borough scored extremely high for governance.

Nowhere in Surrey made it into the top 20 for education, most of these being London boroughs. But five areas of the county, Waverley, Elmbridge, Mole Valley, Surrey Heath and Guildford made the top 20 for health.

Cllr Stephen Cooksey

Cllr Stephen Cooksey, Mole Valley District Council leader, cited the council’s regeneration programmes such as Opportunity Dorking and Transform Leatherhead, adding: “We are also of course blessed with the natural beautiful surroundings in our district.

“There are so many opportunities to explore as part of outdoor living here. This without doubt led to strong ratings for health and social capital.”

Mole Valley was in first place overall in the country 10 years ago but has now fallen to 11th.

Cllr Cooksey said: “As a small district, compared to other much larger locations across the UK, we are extremely proud to have remained so highly ranked.”

In contrast, Epsom and Ewell, Surrey Heath and Runnymede have all made significant gains in the past decade. Spelthorne has also improved considerably since 2011, moving up from 68th place to 51st. But it lags behind other Surrey boroughs, with the next lowest, Tandridge, at 23rd.

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test 2 Responses to Six of the UK’s Most Prosperous Council Areas Are in Surrey

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 22, 2021 at 7:50 am

    So Guildford and Mole Valley are respectively 10th and 11th in terms of prosperity. You wouldn’t know it from the state of our roads, with potholes everywhere, worthy of a third world country. I would not be surprised if we were ranked in the bottom 10 for the state of our infrastructure.

    • Mark Lotinga Reply

      May 23, 2021 at 9:31 am

      You make a very fair point.

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