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Three Guildford County Councillors Give Their Impressions of First Council Meeting

Published on: 26 May, 2021
Updated on: 29 May, 2021

By Martin Giles

We all have experienced that “first day a school feeling” and perhaps it was similar for Surrey county councillors as they met up for their first meeting since the election on May 6.

Three Guildford County councillors give their impressions of the first day of the new Surrey County Council, a meeting held for the first time in Surrey since Kingston became part of Greater London in 1965.

Cllr Fiona Davidson

For Fiona Davidson (R4GV, Guildford South East) it was her first time as a councillor anywhere and the school analogy held true. The temporary individual desk layout reminded her of school exams.

She told The Dragon: “My first impression on entering the council meeting was that I was back in an exam hall, memories I’d hoped to forget!

“Covid regulations meant each member was allocated a desk, so it was a rather formal and functional event.  

“Although the Conservatives still command a majority there is greater balance in the chamber, and this can only be a good thing. I also welcome the improved diversity of the Cabinet.

“The Residents Associations and Independents’ Group, of which R4GV is a member, is now the largest opposition group.

SCC party representation since 1965. The independent group are now second only to the Conservatives whose representation was only worse in 1993.

“Cllr Nick Darby is the leader and laid the ground for the next session when he said that the role of the opposition is to highlight issues, to scrutinise thoroughly and to hold the administration to account as a critical friend.  

“The group has concerns in a number of areas, including the effective use of assets, dealing with climate change, how the additional £176m of savings will be made, and monitoring Children’s Services.

“There’s a very long way to go on Children’s Services so it’s disappointing that the newly appointed Cabinet Member for Children, was the same person who stood down following the inadequate OFSTED rating in 2018.”

Cllr Fiona White

Fiona White is an experienced hand returning to represent Guildford West as a Lib Dem. She was first elected to SCC in 2005. She is also a borough councillor for Westborough having regained her seat in 2019 a seat she first won in 1991.

Fiona said: “While I am not happy that, despite concerns by the LGA [Local Government Association], central government insisted that we had to meet in person.

“But it was good to see old friends and new, especially in our bigger Lib Dem Group. It means we can be even more effective in examining what the leader, Tim Oliver, and Cabinet are doing and to make positive proposals for improvement.

The Guildford Five… Lib Dem County Councillors. From left to right: George Potter (Guildford East), Julie McShane (Guildford North), Angela Goodwin (Guildford South West) Fiona White (Guildford West) and Carla Morson (Ash).

“I am always pleased when women are given more of the powerful roles but it only matters if they make a difference and don’t just behave the same way as their predecessors. The leader referred to improving opportunities and life expectancy. But it will take more than words to achieve that: it will require a change of attitude and policy.

The Conservatives still have an overall majority in the council but I hope that they will recognise the electoral reality. The voters of Surrey are not happy with their performance and they need to listen and then to change.

They must also use their position to point out to Surrey’s MPs, who are all Conservatives, that government policy needs to recognise local residents’ priorities and do what is needed to reflect those priorities, particularly by keeping their promise to bring forward better ways of funding adult social care.”

Bob Hughes

Bob Hughes (Con, Shere) is a new Surrey county councillor but forty years ago, in 1980, he was elected to the Greater London Council representing Croydon Central, until 1986.

Then, in 1987, he was elected as the Member of Parliament for Harrow West. He successfully defended his seat at the 1992 election but at the 1997 election his 18,000 majority swung to a Labour majority of 1,240 votes for Gareth Thomas.

Bob said: “Being elected as the county councillor for Shere was a thrill for me, and it is of course a great responsibility. So with fellow county councillors of all parties, I have been lapping up the induction and information sessions laid on by council officers as well as dealing with a range of issues raised with me, some urgent.

“The induction sessions are more important than they might sound.  Surrey County Council is a large and complex body and I need to be in a position to be effective in taking up matters on behalf of the communities I serve and if it’s an urgent matter I need to get to the right person, first time.

The first SCC meeting at Surrey County Council’s new HQ, Woodhatch Place on Cockshot Hill, Reigate. The temporary, distanced layout reminded Fiona Davidson of an exam hall. Credit Surrey County Council

My initial impression, just one meeting in, but also having had the opportunity to discuss issues with the Cabinet, is that the big issues are handled seriously.

Coming from the voluntary sector, I know how closely the county has worked with charities and voluntary groups during the pandemic. They are now taking the lead in building back Surrey’s economy with a clear determination to build back greener.”

See also: The Dragon Post Election Debate


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Responses to Three Guildford County Councillors Give Their Impressions of First Council Meeting

  1. Keith Francis Reply

    May 29, 2021 at 5:30 am

    I disagree with Cllr Fiona White. Councillors meeting together physically again is long overdue. All those virtual meetings for whatever purpose, schooling, training, speaking to doctors etc, are, if they really think about it, with no personal contact adding to our country’s mental health problem.

    Also, I understood that councillors had a dress code and were encouraged to follow it but working from home this has in some cases been totally thrown out of the window, plus, the way some of them behave in front of the camera and microphone is disgraceful.

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