“The current ineffective and uneconomic two-tier system of local government needs reforming and streamlining. We must, however, beware the creation of one monster-council for the whole of Surrey, which would need to serve 1.2 million people who currently live here. This would make it distant from residents and impossible to manage efficiently”, says Gill Smith, Chair of Elmbridge Liberal Democrats.
This comment follows the surprise statement by Tim Oliver, Surrey County Council’s Conservative leader, earlier this week when he announced the forthcoming re-organisation of local government structures. In his words ‘this is in line with the government agenda’ and requires ‘working with government as it presses ahead with the devolution white paper’. He also said that ‘all options will be explored.’
Mr Oliver’s somewhat guarded remarks create a real concern that the Tory government in collaboration with the Tory administration in the County Hall have ambushed Surrey’s residents with their announcement, without any consultation.
Their ideological and centralising agenda is disguised as ‘devolution’, but we must continue to advocate for a more community-centric model. Elmbridge Lib Dems favour localism and we will fight against any idea of creating a monolithic local government authority, which already suffers from the usual and sadly well-known problems of mammoth organisations.
Councillor Chris Botten, the group leader of Liberal Democrats in Surrey County Council responded to Mr Oliver’s announcement, saying “It is clear that the central government’s ruthless and continuing cuts mean that smaller district and borough councils find it difficult to deliver services, but this does not mean that an oversized Surrey-wide single council is the way forward.”
No details of how such a change would be implemented were given, other than it is anticipated that all district and borough councils will cease to exist.
Cllr Botten went on to say, “Our group supports the development of single-tier authorities across Surrey as the most cost-effective and customer-centric way forward, but creating one county-wide council is not the answer. It would be remote and unaccountable. This Tory plan will result in residents being far from decisions that affect them. We need to create more than one authority in Surrey and thus ensure that it responds to the county’s natural concentrations of economic, social and cultural activity.”
Sharing Mr Botten’s concerns, Elmbridge Lib Dems say “We are told that all the Conservative MPs in Surrey are in favour of such a monster unitary authority. There must be a way of creating 3 or 4 authorities across the county which would serve our residents much better, whilst also saving money when the current 11 borough councils are brought together with the county council. It also requires that we analyse the role of parish councils as a way of ensuring our residents are heard.”
The government’s white paper on devolution is expected to be published in early autumn and Elmbridge Liberal Democrats will scrutinise it carefully and put forward their views on the best way forward.