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Surrey County Council Faces Battle in Bid to Scrap Borough and District Councils

Published on: 8 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 17 Jul, 2020

Map showing those areas of England (pink) that are already unitary authorities but none are are populous as Surrey. (Wikipedia)

By Martin Giles

A plan to scrap Surrey County Council, Guildford Borough Council and the 10 other Borough and District councils in Surrey and combine them in a single unitary authority is being promoted by Tim Oliver (Con, Weybridge), leader of Surrey County Council. One opposition councillor claimed it was already a “done deal” following secret negotiations.

Unitary authorities are a single tier of local government combining the functions of a county (eg education, highways, public health) and those of borough or district councils (eg planning, social housing, recycling and refuse collection). By creating one layer of local government in Surrey it is expected that major savings can be made at a time when all councils are under great financial pressure.

With a population of 1.2 million, Surrey has twice the population of Cornwall, the biggest existing non-metropolitan unitary authority in England.

Ten most populous English non-metropolitan unitary authorities.

Cllr Tim Oliver

Cllr Oliver, in a statement to a full council meeting at Kingston yesterday (July 7), said: “We must now take a fundamental look at the future of local government. Those of you who attended the LGA [Local Government Association] conference last week will know the government are pressing ahead with the planned devolution White Paper in the autumn.

“… by working with government ahead of this White Paper I believe we can secure greater powers and responsibility and we can examine what is the right structure of government for Surrey’s future to tackle the challenges we face and to take the opportunities coming our way.

“We will continue our work in exploring the options and engage our partners across Surrey with a view to coming back to council in early autumn.”

Cllr Chris Botten

But Chris Botten (Caterham Hill), the Lib Dem leader at SCC, said: “A single unitary authority for Surrey will be a controversial option we will oppose and we would expect a level of consultation and localism to be reflected in the solutions we would put forward.

“My own group will scrutinise very carefully what is being proposed but will generally oppose single, monolithic and remote authorities which fail to learn the lessons from the localism and the closeness to communities that really matter to our residents.”

Cllr Eber Kington

Cllr Eban Kington (Auriol & Cuddington Residents Association, Ewell Court) complained of secret negotiations. He believes “…ministers have been spoken to and the deal is done. Research has been undertaken and a clear timetable agreed by Surrey County Council”.

He added: “I also believe some borough council leaders have obviously been approached. Last week, the chief executives were invited to a meeting where the plans were revealed as a done deal.

“At what point in this secretive and underhand process is Cllr Oliver going to speak to all borough and district political leaders and explain his already well-developed plans which will mean the extinction of 11 councils in Surrey?

“It is somewhat ironic that in his statement Cllr Oliver spoke long and often about having conversations and listening but apparently this does not include local government fora and all borough and district council leaders.”

Robert Evans, the sole Labour county councillor (Stanwell and Stanwell Moor) believes creation of three unitary authorities in Surrey would be a better option.

But he said: “It is certain that boroughs and districts are in a process of denial at the moment… A huge percentage of the residents of Surrey don’t care who the council is. They are confused over the present system. What they want are services delivered properly, cheaply and as efficiently as possible…”

Cllr Fiona White

Fiona White (Lib Dem, Guildford West) said a debate on the future of local government in Surrey should come first, adding: “The time for that debate… is not now. We are still recovering from the Covid-19 outbreak and do not yet know whether there will be a spike or even a second wave.

“Our officers need to recharge their batteries. They do not need this distraction now.”

Ms White agreed “a single, monolithic authority for such a diverse county was not the right way forward”, and added: “So I would like to ask the leader to consider having a proper consultation across the county and come back with better proposals after he has listened to the responses.”

 

 

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test 19 Responses to Surrey County Council Faces Battle in Bid to Scrap Borough and District Councils

  1. David Middleton Reply

    July 8, 2020 at 9:59 pm

    I have no idea whether a county unitary authority is a good or bad idea, but as a resident and taxpayer of Surrey, why is the first I hear of this scheme is effectively a “leak” via a local online news outlet?

    The pros and cons of such a major change to our local government structure need to be properly broadcast and ultimately put to a vote by all Surrey residents.

    Editor’s response: That the first news of local council business is on The Guildford Dragon should not be surprising because that happens often. This news was part of leader Tim Oliver’s statement at Tuesday’s SCC meeting. What could be considered a leak was in the claim that there had been secret negotiations with ministers and a briefing of the borough and district MDs.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    July 8, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    Perhaps they should as the electorate first before empire building.

    The current SCC set up does not bring a sense of comfort.

  3. W A Prevost Reply

    July 9, 2020 at 11:02 am

    The proposed monolith would be the worst possible format for Surrey. The community is most diverse, from the county town of Guildford to other large towns and small villages. I very much doubt that parish and village councils will have any say at all in future development plans.

    Surrey County Council should put it to the vote of the people of Surrey.

  4. Robert Evans Reply

    July 9, 2020 at 11:28 am

    It’s a central government initiative, not from Surrey County Council.

    Robert Evans is a Labour county councillor for Stanwell and Stanwell Moor

    • George Potter Reply

      July 9, 2020 at 12:46 pm

      The government is going to be announcing an initiative to create new unitary authorities this autumn. However, the proposal to more to just a single “monster” unitary authority for the 1.2 million people in Surrey is entirely the brainchild of the county council.

      George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

  5. Barbara Ford Reply

    July 9, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    Wouldn’t a unitary authority (or two or three of them) have advantages from the environmental point of view? Part of the difficulty for Guildford at the moment as regards green policies is that most of our transport arrangements, for example, are the responsibility of the county.

  6. Bill Stokoe Reply

    July 9, 2020 at 2:55 pm

    What would happen to Guildford’s valuable property portfolio?

    Bill Stokoe is the chairman of the Guildford Vision Group.

  7. David Roberts Reply

    July 9, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    At first sight, I’m attracted by Cllr Evans’s three-authority solution since, broadly, that’s how Surrey divides up. A single unitary authority is too big, and the current plethora of boroughs and districts is just a gravy-train for local bumbledom.

    Guildford is the most irrational unit, with half of its population in town and most of its territory in the green belt – a recipe for unbalanced decision-making as seen in the Local Plan. If the Lib Dems or other groups have a better idea, let’s hear it.

  8. Mike Murphy Reply

    July 9, 2020 at 5:53 pm

    It looks as if the SCC Conservatives are getting a bit worried that local politics is moving away from the main parties and they think that if they bring in a unitary authority the inherent Tory bias in Surrey will be upheld and they therefore will not be turfed out, something they richly deserve.

  9. Keith Francis Reply

    July 9, 2020 at 10:32 pm

    I recently challenged some SCC traffic measures (double yellow lines) in Great Bookham which were scheduled to be done last October, but, only now has the first stage been done and the road “cleansed” and the double yellow lines have straightaway been painted on the road.

    However, residents and businesses still need to be consulted before the appropriate order can be issued and the work properly undertaken. The excuses SCC have made for the delay are derisory.

    • Stuart Taylor Reply

      July 10, 2020 at 11:40 pm

      Not exactly a new idea, the Redcliffe-Maud Report proposed East and West Surrey unitary councils in the early 1970s.

      Personally, if I was going to rely on any one authority to run the county, Surrey County Council would not be in my top five. The also have hopeless financial problems, which they no doubt feel can be solved by stripping district assets.

  10. Matthew Ellis Reply

    July 10, 2020 at 6:00 am

    Given the proposal from SCC covers a population double the current largest unitary body, I think it is far too large.

    While I would agree we should reduce the layers of government (I have felt for some time that SCC was irrelevant, while my local council was far more effective), splitting the county up into something between four and six areas would make more sense – particularly as the county is part London suburbs and part rural.

  11. William Cole Reply

    July 10, 2020 at 10:29 am

    If we are looking at creating unitary authorities we should look at breaking up Surrey and enlarge Guildford as one authority, make the Blackwater Valley a new authority, combining sections of Surrey Heath, Mytchett, Ash, and Tongham, and form another to cover Aldershot, Farnham, Farnborough, and Blackwater on the west, with Sandhurst in the north.

    At the moment the Blackwater Valley is divided into many sections with different overlaps for MPs, boroughs, and counties. it’s crazy.

  12. Keith Francis Reply

    July 10, 2020 at 10:46 am

    For historic reasons Surrey’s County Hall is in Kingston, a London borough.

    So did the fact that the greater part of the population who would use the proposed acute care hospital at Sutton are Londoners influence the decision to give it the go-ahead?

    This project is already something that we in Surrey won’t have much control over. Intriguingly, Epsom’s MP Chris Grayling has kept a major interest in it for us and is having his say while the Mole Valley MP, Sir Paul Beresford, appears not to have supported his northern Mole Valley voters and we shall find that Epsom hospital’s A&E (and St Helier hospital’s A&E) will be down-graded to possibly a “minor injuries unit” with more serious patients being expected to go to the new acute care hospital.

    Also, Mole Valley District Council and its councillors, whose southern residents go to the East Surrey Hospital in Redhill and the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, have kept quiet.

    This is another unacceptable face of Surrey’s Tory politics.

  13. Nick Trier Reply

    July 13, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    In the case of Northamptonshire, the government precluded a single unitary and set a minimum population of 300,000 for any new unitary. This meant that only a two unitary outcome was possible, and this did in due course happen. However, a Children’s Trust covering the whole county was part of the settlement because children’s services could not function with the disruption and fragmentation that otherwise would have occurred.

    Any multiple unitary solution would likely have to be combined with such a Surrey-wide trust to enable the necessary improvements to be sustained into the future. For those of us who value diversity and multiple opinions to be heard, a monolithic Surrey unitary authority based on the existing Surrey County Council is a dreadful prospect.

    Cllr Robert Evans’ three unitary proposal is much more likely to gain community support if the government continues to set a minimum 300K population threshold.

  14. Michael Ney Reply

    August 19, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    I wouldn’t trust SCC to run a whelk stall; their children’s services were judged “inadequate overall” in 2018, their Supplies Department was so chaotic that it effectively went bust and many users in the county are said to now use Kent County Supplies and they had a major fraud from the highways contractor charging for work not done, double charging for work done and doing rubbish quality work.

    I wouldn’t keep such a contractor even on the tender list but what did Surrey do? Gave them an extension to the contract, allegedly without any clawback of the money taken.

    No, let’s have Unitary Authorities as was done in Berkshire and scrap SCC altogether.

  15. Adam Aaronson Reply

    August 20, 2020 at 8:34 am

    Don’t worry. The decision will probably be taken by an algorithm, designed by someone with 2.4 children.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  16. John Perkins Reply

    August 20, 2020 at 9:44 am

    Two questions for Cllr Oliver:

    Will he be engaging with the residents of the county or does he not regard them as “partners”?

    Why does he think he needs greater powers?

    • Jim Allen Reply

      August 20, 2020 at 3:42 pm

      No! He regards them as HIS residents!

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