Conservative County Council Network Report gears up to remove residents’ say and end local democracy

September 2, 2020 1:33 PM

Zöe Franklin (captioned)

Conservative County Council Network Report gears up to remove residents' say and end local democracy

2nd September 2020

Responding to the publication last week of the County Council Network's report on local government reorganisation, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for Guildford and Cranleigh, Zöe Franklin said:

"It is unsurprising that the report written for the Conservative-dominated County Council Network is extolling the virtues of scrapping all district and borough councils to create super-unitary councils in all of England's county councils. This is not about local democracy or cost-savings. It is about power, something we know that the Conservatives are obsessed with at all cost. Let us not be under any illusion that this is about what is best for residents - that is the last thing they will consider.

"In contrast to county councils, England's district and borough councils are much more politically diverse, reflecting real local communities. It is my belief, and that of my Lib Dem colleagues, that Conservative county councils like Surrey want to maintain their iron grip on power come what may. They are fearful of a repetition of that the last year's local elections when the Conservatives lost control of 9 of the 11 borough and district councils in Surrey. This move to a Super Unitary Council for Surrey is simply a ploy to wipe out all non-Tory boroughs and force us all to be run by the Conservatives locally.

"This is not about what is best for residents but what is best for the Conservative Party."

The Liberal Democrats support the idea of simple government that makes access to services easy for local people, but that does not mean a faceless county-wide super-unitary council located miles away making decisions on everything for all of us - from refuse collection, the management of local parks or who can build a few houses in their back garden. The Government's own recommendation is that a unitary council works best with up to 600,000 residents in its care. With a population of 1.2 million (and growing) Surrey would best be represented by three unitary councils that can easily be divided into north, east and west Surrey with a maximum of 450,000 residents in each.

The primary thrust of the County Council Network's report is 'simplicity for residents' and that running services county-wide would creative massive cost savings in the process. However, these benefits' fall over as soon as you consider them with any more than a quick glance. The massive figures quoted work out at a saving of just £20 per person per year for five years whilst putting local services in the hands of a remote outpost lacking any real local representation.

Caroline ReevesCaroline Reeves, Liberal Democrat leader of Guildford Borough Council adds:

"This idea from Conservative-run Surrey County Council is so unpopular that all the leaders of Surrey's borough and district councils, including the two that are still led by Conservatives, are united in their opposition to this plan. Surrey CC is made up of 11 boroughs and districts. Our key concern is the loss of democracy for our residents and businesses. In Guildford borough for example, we currently have 48 borough councillors and 10 county councillors - 58 councillors in all. A single unitary council for the whole of Surrey would mean just 81 councillors representing all 1.2 million residents. This simply means local government becomes more remote and less in touch with local needs for services.

"And if the Conservatives on Surrey County Council think that giving them the control of all our services on a county-wide basis is a good idea to increase 'access' for local people, we only have to look at Surrey CC's record to see how disastrous this would be for all of us.

"The Conservatives on Surrey CC have run local fire and rescue services county-wide since 2010. These are now rated "INADEQUATE" with a 31% cut in firefights and control staff, 4 fire engines cut in April with more to be cut in October.

"The Conservatives on Surrey CC run county-wide children's services. In 2014 and 2015 the service was rated "Requires Improvement" with only a slight improvement to 'Inadequate' in 2018.

"The Conservatives on Surrey CC run county-wide adult social care. Lib Dem investigations at the end of 2018 showed that complaints made about the service had risen by 13% over three years and were expected to hit 31% by the end of that year.

"How can we trust that a large, cumbersome single unitary Conservative-run Surrey-wide authority would run our local parks, our refuse services, our planning and development needs here in Guildford and Cranleigh any better than it does with these three crucial services?"

Surrey's 11 Districts/BoroughsZöe Franklin adds:

"What is astounding is that there has been no consultation with local people. The Lib Dems support unitary authorities, but not a single behemoth authority that this report recommends. Three unitaries in Surrey would work well and would maintain a local feel whilst giving residents better value for their local taxes. The financial impact of Covid-19 added to a decade of cuts to local government funding means we do need to look at leaner and more cohesive local government, but one which maintains high-quality services at grass roots level, meeting the needs of local people and communities.

"The people of Guildford, Cranleigh and the whole of Surrey deserve proper local democracy. Let's ask them what they want, not impose a white elephant on them. Let's not leave it to the incompetent and out-of-touch Conservative Party to make these important decisions for them. Let local people decide."