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Women Make Up Two Thirds of New County Council Cabinet

Published on: 25 May, 2021
Updated on: 25 May, 2021

New Surrey County Council HQ, Woodhatch Place on Cockshot Hill, Reigate. Credit Surrey County Council

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Women make up two-thirds of the new Surrey County Council cabinet appointed by Tim Oliver, who has been elected to remain as leader for the next four years.

The council today (Tuesday 25) met in Surrey for the first time in more than 50 years after selling up County Hall in Kingston and relocating to Woodhatch in Reigate.

Cllr Tim Oliver re-elected as council leader

Cllr Oliver, who has led the council since December 2018, will continue in the role until 2025.

He was praised by Cllr Bernie Muir as “a class act” with a “cool, calm and collected” style.

Cllr Oliver said: “I will stay true to our guiding principles of equal opportunity, improving life expectancy and ensuring that no one in this county is left behind.”

The following members now sit in the Conservative cabinet:

  • Children and Families – Clare Curran;
  • Education and Learning – Denise Turner-Stewart;
  • Adults – Sinead Mooney;
  • Economic Development and Property – Natalie Bramhall;
  • Finance and Resources (and deputy leader) – Becky Rush;
  • Transport and Infrastructure – Matt Furniss;
  • Environment – Marisa Heath;
  • Communities – Mark Nuti.

Cllr Matt Furniss

A cabinet member for health is yet to be appointed.

Cllr Furniss (Con, Shalford) who retains the Transport portfolio, is the only cabinet member from a Guildford division.

Cllr Will Forster, who replaces Chris Botten as Liberal Democrats group leader, said he hoped the cabinet would be more willing to listen to concerns than the government, who he said had forced councillors to meet in person before many had been vaccinated and felt ready.

Cllr Will Forster

He thanked council staff for sorting out the socially distanced room in which the meeting was held. A new council chamber is expected to be completed by the end of June.

Labour group leader Robert Evans agreed, saying Cambridgeshire County Council had just had its annual meeting in an aircraft hangar.

Cllr Oliver said back in 2005 the then Labour leader Ray Lowther had held his group meetings in a phone box, now ‘used as museums’.

“I’m sure you will find one of the rooms here perfectly adequate for your enormous group,” he jibed.

Cllr Evans said if the Labour group continues to double their number of councillors at every election, it will take them just 20 years to take control.

He urged the leader to use his influence to help people ‘in impossible situations’ affected by properties with unsafe cladding.

He said people on the doorstep had been very concerned about closures to fire stations at night-time.

Cllr Oliver responded: “The fire service is absolutely safe in the hands of this council.”

Newly elected Green councillor Catherine Baart was unimpressed that the leader had not mentioned Surrey’s climate change strategy.

She said: “As members know, climate change and biodiversity decline are existential threats to all we do. And my question is, will the leader ensure that there are not just strategies, but also targets and systems of measurement in place?”

Cllr Jonathan Essex of the Green Party said: “Businesses must deliver much of the £15 billion needed to shift Surrey’s climate and economy to net zero and halve emissions, as is in our strategy, whilst we are still councillors by 2025 – no mean feat.”

Residents’ Association and Independent group leader Nick Darby said it would be vital to scrutinise early on how the the newly commissioned children’s mental health contract is working.

He added: “For adult social care, we have continued disappointment with central government, minimal references in the recent Queen’s speech, no progress, resulting in continued massive pressure in this area for all local authorities, not just Surrey.”

Cllr Nick Harrison, of Nork and Tattenhams Residents’ Association, said if the council was to be regarded as successful it would need to achieve a Good Ofsted rating or better.

Cllr Oliver recognised the inadequate children’s services but said he was ‘absolutely confident’ of a Good rating when the council is fully reassessed.

He said they would ‘very soon’ announce the establishment of a climate change board.

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