County Leader unrepentant over failed bid for single unitary.

October 14, 2020 5:46 PM
Originally published by Surrey County Council Lib Dems

LibDems at County HallAt County Council yesterday, Surrey's Leader, Cllr Tim Oliver ensured his group voted against the Lib Dem motion calling for a much-needed reconciliation with the Boroughs and Districts with whom a relationship of trust had completely broken down. In his speech the Lib Dem Leader Cllr Chris Botten outlined how the recent perceived 'power grab' by the county council, by unilaterally pursuing its ambition of a single unitary authority, had severely damaged relations with the eleven borough and district councils of all colours, who had been side-lined by their action.

Lib Dem Leader Cllr Chris Botten called for a degree of humility in seeking to rebuild a relationship of trust so that proper joint working could resume in the interests of residents. Instead, Cllr Oliver called for the establishment of Local Community Networks, which would cover communities of around 50k residents. These could be used to gauge public opinion in any future consultation on establishing a single authority, which remains the council's ambition, despite not being invited by central government to submit a bid and flying in the face of the opposition expressed by borough and district councils and residents alike.

Cllr Botten feared these networks would be run by consultants through focus groups which would not only add to the already high cost of the initial failed bid which currently stands at £250k, but would not necessarily be representative of residents' views. He argued instead that working through the Boroughs and Districts, and Parish, Village and Town councils, where they exist, would help rebuild relationships across local government.

Cllr Botten was supported by fellow Lib Dem Cllr Stephen Cooksey, also the Leader of Mole Valley DC, who spoke about how relationships had been fractured. He said, "The bid was launched without any meaningful discussion with District and Boroughs - to launch a bid which proposed their abolition without even cursory discussions demonstrated a complete disregard for their opinions and was bound to lead to an effective breakdown in relations … and in reality that is what happened."

Cllr Fiona White added, "I think a lot of work has to be done to heal to relationships with the district and borough councils. Regardless of their political make-up, I think just about all of them feel ill-used by this council especially in view of the work they have put in to deliver local services during lockdown and after. It is a shame that the leaflet put round by this council earlier this year does not specifically acknowledge that record."