County Leader unrepentant over failed bid for single unitary

October 15, 2020 12:36 PM

During this week's Surrey County Council meeting the Leader of the Council, Tim Oliver, ensured his Conservative Group voted against a Lib Dem motion calling for a much-needed reconciliation with the Borough and District Councils with whom a relationship of trust had completely broken down.

In his speech the Lib Dem Leader Group Leader, 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 political colours, who had been side-lined by their action.

The Lib Dems 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 Tim Oliver and the Tories called for the establishment of Local Community Networks which would cover communities of around 50,000 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 the Government to submit a bid and flying in the face of the opposition expressed by Borough and District Councils and residents alike.

Chris Botten and the Lib Dems fear 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 £250,000, but would not necessarily be representative of residents' views. We argued instead that working through the Borough and District, and Town, Parish and Village Councils, where they exist, would help rebuild relationships across local government.

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

"The bid was launched without any meaningful discussion with Borough and District Council - 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."

"I think a lot of work has to be done to heal to relationships with the Borough and District Councils. Regardless of their political make-up, I think just about all of them feel ill-used by the County 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 the County Council earlier this year does not specifically acknowledge that record."