Lib Dems expose cost of failed unitary bid

September 30, 2020 10:50 AM
By Cllr Will Forster

Following a question from the Lib Dems, Surrey County Council has confirmed that the cost of its failed bid to become a unitary authority was just under £250,000.

In anticipation of a Government White Paper on local government devolution, the Conservatives running the County Council decided to pursue plans to become a unitary authority. This power grab would have involved abolishing the Surrey's 11 Borough and District Councils, and centralising power in one unitary authority serving 1.2 million people. However, the Surrey Tories' plans have been stopped by the Government.

During yesterday's Cabinet meeting, the Leader of the Council confirmed that almost £250,000 was spent on research in support of the Council's controversial unitary bid. The Council spent a further £44,000 on printing and delivering a leaflet across Surrey promoting its plans to the public.

The County Council's bid also forced Borough and District Councils to commit to spending £30,000 each, to work on a coordinated response to oppose the move to a single unitary authority.

Will Forster, Lib Dem County Councillor for Woking South, said:

"What a waste of money this has been not only for the County Council but also for Surrey's 11 Borough and District Councils whose much smaller budgets are already stretched to the limit having to deliver extra services during the pandemic."

Councillor Forster also reacted to the County Council's admission that the Government had not even responded to its letter requesting a start to unitary discussions.

"The Council should certainly not have started spending public money before hearing from the Government or consulting the public, especially at a time when resources should be firmly focussed on turning around failing services and supporting communities through this very challenging period. It is not surprising this Government has made another u turn on policy proposals, but in 'jumping the gun' it turns out that Surrey County Council has not only made a serious error of judgement in attempting this 'un-democratic power grab' but has also overestimated its influence with Government ministers."