Waverley &Guildford Cooperation to Counter Funding Cuts.

For over a decade nowocal authorities have been forced to manage significant cuts to their funding from Government The CO.VID pandemic has greatly exaggerated the problem. In Waverley and Guildford, the two “rainbow alliance” controlled administrations have been exploring the possibility of greater co-operation as one way to mitigate these cuts. According to a press release from Waverley BC, both councils are now ready to take formal decisions on this at their next full council meetings, on July 6th.

Guildford and Waverley Borough Councils’ partnership working moves forward

In February this year, Executive Committees at Guildford and Waverley endorsed working more closely together, and with the support of the Local Government Association have been exploring potential options for combining services and administrative functions. This week, both councils discussed these options further and agreed to make a decision on the next step for partnership working at their respective Full Council meetings on 6 July.


Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic both councils have worked hard to maintain essential services, help vulnerable communities and support their local economies. However, the additional costs of responding to the outbreak have impacted on already stretched council budgets.

A KPMG report into local government reorganisation and collaboration, published earlier this year, highlighted a clear need for neighbouring authorities across Surrey to consider the expansion of existing partnerships to reduce the duplication of services, increase efficiency and provide better value for money. In February, the Local Government Association was engaged to carry out a scoping report on potential savings for partnership working between Guildford and Waverley. The report provided the background for this week’s discussions.

The options could potentially lead to savings and better, more sustainable local services for residents under two separate democratic councils. Savings could include those achieved by sharing a single senior management team, economies of scale in the delivery of some services and increased purchasing power when negotiating with suppliers and contractors.

Leader of Guildford Borough Council, Cllr Joss Bigmore said:

“We are exploring closer working with Waverley Borough Council as a way to future-proof and protect our services to our residents and businesses and keep them local. Our joint budget challenges mean we must explore ambitious plans. A merged set of officers supporting two separate groups of councillors is a model that has been implemented in councils across the country delivering increased resilience in service and cost savings to budgets and is one of the options councillors will now decide on the 6 July. At Guildford we need to find £6millon over the next four years and recent changes by the government restrict our abilities to act in the commercial world to offset substantial reduction in government funding.

“We keep 9% of Council Tax and around 5% of the business rates we collect and despite being on target to achieve £8million of cost savings from our Future Guildford Transformation Programme, we need to make more savings. I think this organisation has performed amazingly well to maintain the services we provide when considered against this brutal funding environment and with the additional response to the pandemic, but it is not enough and we must continue to explore all options. There are natural synergies between Guildford and Waverley, in our communities and geography and we are excited to progress looking at greater partnership working.

He added: “It is time for councillors to make some challenging decisions. I am now confident we can be certain there are significant tangible benefits for both councils and our respective communities to progress further partnership working and to do this at a pace.”

Leader of Waverley Borough Council, Cllr Paul Follows said:

“Local authorities have been forced to manage significant cuts to their funding from Government for over a decade now, and most are reaching the limits of what can be achieved on their own, without having to make some really tough decisions about cutting local services to make ends meet. Even before the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, Waverley Borough Council had embarked on an ambitious programme of measures to deliver cost savings and to maximise the use of our assets to increase income. However, we still have a residual budget shortfall of £7.8million over the next four years, so we continue to explore a range of options including collaboration.

“The KPMG report stressed that joint working is the way forward, and it is clear that doing nothing is simply not an option. Cooperation with our neighbour Guildford, could enable us to make financial savings while protecting and even helping us to improve our services, even as other areas are having to contemplate cuts to theirs.

Councillor Follows added: “Local government reorganisation has been high on the Government’s agenda for many years now, and it appears a reasonable possibility that at some point, there will be a move to a Unitary council structure in Surrey. Guildford and Waverley would make a logical core for any such organisation covering our area, and closer cooperation could help demonstrate the effectiveness of that arrangement. Ultimately, we hope to achieve a highly successful partnership, that other local authorities in Surrey will want to use as a model or even join.”

Haslemere Needs Street Trees.

There are numerous benefits to street trees going way beyond their decorative appeal, as the graphic below shows. So it puzzles me that Surrey County Council are reluctant to replace dying or dead street trees – even though their website encourages residents to report these.

When a resident contacted me to complain that the street tree outside his home was dead and needed replacing, I found a facility on the Surrey CC website to report dying or dead trees. However, when I duly reported this to Surrey Highways, the response was somewhat puzzling.

They wrote that ” the problem does not need immediate work”. This is somewhat bizarre, as if a tree does not need replacing when it is dead – when does it need replacing? When I pushed further, I got an answer that was at least more rational, but still not satisfactory. The assessment found that the dead tree posed no risk – by which I assume they mean risk to pedestrians or vehicles.

But this completely misses the point. From the monarch down, we are being encouraged by all levels of government (including Surrey CC) to plant more trees. Why plant more, if we can’t or won’t even replace those that have died?

I suspect that the real answer is that there is just not the money.

If Surrey Highways simply do not have the budget to replace trees, how else can we get this done? One way or the other, it must surely be possible. The Surrey CC website states that under certain conditions, individuals or groups can secure permission to undertake planting themselves. Street trees are important, and I will continue to argue for more trees for Haslemere. Haslemere town council has some (limited) funds available for neighbourhood improvements. This will not be enough to pay Surrey to do the work, but it could be enough to underwrite the basic expenses to secure permission for local volunteers to do the work. 

The LibDem Surge is Real – and SW Surrey is Winnable!

 

For the second time this month, a ComRes opinion poll has Liberal Democrats on 20% (the party has not been this high with this pollster since 2010).   A projection by the website Flavible Politics based on this poll, indicates a total of 83 seats for the LibDems at the next election – including (among many more) SW Surrey, Guildford, Mole Valley, Woking and Eshar & Walton)..

(1 – SW Surrey; 2- Guildford; 3- Mole Valley; 4- Woking; 5 – Esher & Walton)

Other polling companies also reflect the LibDem surge. The poll tracking website Britain Elects has a graph that shows the rapid increase in LD support since the May local elections – with the most recent polling suggesting the start of a Swinson surge – just as the Boris bounce appears to have peaked.

The most important polls are not opinion polls, but those at the polling booth – and across the country, in local by-elections since May 2nd, LibDems have taken more votes in total then either the Conservatives, or Labour, as shown in the aggregate totals collected by Election Maps UK:  While the LD share of the vote has gone up by 11%  from the previous results in these wards, the Conservative share has dropped by 4% – and Labour by 8%.

At the parliamentary level, we gained one MP in the Brecon by-election – and six more who have joined us from other parties, in just the past few months. While both the other major parties are hopelessly divided, Liberal Democrats are clearly united and enthusiastic. They have the momentum, and with the wind at their back, a win in South West Surrey, which a short while back seemed impossible, now appears to be increasingly plausible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament is an affront to democracy | Financial Times

Sound comment from the Financial Times (not usually noted as hostile to the Conservative Party):

Boris Johnson has detonated a bomb under the constitutional apparatus of the United Kingdom. The prime minister’s request to the Queen to suspend parliament for up to five weeks, ostensibly to prepare a new legislative programme, is without modern precedent. It is an intolerable attempt to silence parliament until it can no longer halt a disastrous crash-out by the UK from the EU on October 31. The seat of British democracy, long admired worldwide, is being denied a say on the most consequential decision facing the country in more than four decades. So, too, are the British people — in whose name Mr Johnson claims to be acting. It is time for parliamentarians to bring down his government in a no-confidence vote, paving the way for an election in which the people can express their will.

Source: Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament is an affront to democracy | Financial Times

The Haslemere Community Land Trust to Meet Haslemere TC

This evening, the Haslemere CLT will be addressing a special meeting of the Haslemere town councillors, on their plans.  Their website proclaims that

The Haslemere Community Land Trust is new
It is “not-for-profit”
It works to create affordable housing
It is run BY the community
It is run FOR the community
It works IN the community

I have been interested in the trust since I first read about it. In Haslemere, we are fortunate to live in an extremely desirable location, rich in history and natural beauty, but also in comfortable commuting distance to London – but that very desirability means that property prices are high, and so not always affordable for young people who have grown up here.

Our local Liberal Democrat team are committed to the importance of securing affordable housing – but that means genuinely affordable, particularly social rented housing, rather the legal governent definition, which simply meas a little less expensive than others in the neighbourhood. so not necessarily affordable at all, for those on average or low incomes. Formal housing studies agree: the “West Surrey Strategic Housing Assessment” study states the primary need is in the affordable/social market sector, especially for smaller homes suitable for young couples starting out, and for older people wanting to downsize. These are not the housing types that private developers are likely to prioritise: they are generally more likely to be more interested in larger, more expensive family homes.

My concerns are in general alignment with the aims of the Haslemere Community Land Trust.  The challenge will be to find ways to realise these aims. I look forward to this evening’s discussion, and will report back later.

 

Read more, from the Haslemere Community Land Trust:

Our LibDem Councillors: Promises Kept!

It is now not much more than two months since our team of newly elected Liberal Democrat town councillors were inducted, but already we are making a difference – and are keeping promises we made on the campaign trail.

As candidates for the local elections, we promised (among others) to :

● Communicate regularly with residents: We will continue distributing Focus all year round.

We have already distributed one issue of Focus since the election, and are currently preparing the next. We plan to produce one every quarter.

● Listen to your concerns:  We will hold regular Councillors’ surgeries to hear your concerns and assist where we can.

We have held our first surgery at the Haslewey Community Centre. The next two are scheduled for August 3rd (10-12 am, again at Haslewey) and August 10th (3:30 – 5pm, Royal British Legion, Hindhead) .

● Attend Council meetings This should be a basic but the record of several Conservative Councillors leaves much to be desired. We pledge to do better.

It’s early days, but our LD councillors thus far have a strong attendance record, not only for the main council and sub-committee meetings, but also for other civic functions and meetings with community groups.

Consider the interests of ALL residents. We promise to consider all our residents, reflecting our community’s full diversity.

At the Finance and Governance committee, we proposed amaending the existing equal opportunities policy for staff, to cover the full town, in everything that we do.  The full council has now approved an amended policy that does just that.

● Be ACTIVE campaigners We will be fully involved in campaigns to protect and improve our community, starting with our efforts to be ready, if necessary, to defend the library from cuts.

We will shortly be announcing the next steps in the library campaign. In addition, we worked closely with our Green and Independent partners in the “progressive alliance” that now leads the council, to prepare a motion for the council to declare a climate emergency. While that did not pass in the original wording, council did adopt a revised motion, again prepared by Independent and LibDem councillors, to accept the principle, and set up a working party to produce a revised motion that will be accepted at our next meeting. 

Haslemere – an “Inclusive Town”

At the meeting of the town council “Finance & Governance” committee last month, one of the documents before us for perusal was our existing “equal opportunities policy”. On inspecting this, I noted that the words contained referred to “staff” – but no more. Our LibDem mayor, Cllr John Robini, suggested that this policy should also apply to councillors, and I responded that it should go even further: it needs to apply to all our residents, in everything that we do.

During the local election campaign, I noted publicly that although Haslemere is widely thought of as a comfortable, middle-class English town, and that is undeniably accurate in general, it certainly does not apply to all our residents. I am well aware from my work delivering medicines for our local pharmacy, that we have many elderly people in our community, some of whom have mobility problems, are lonely, or on limited incomes. We have others too, not only the elderly, who have problems with mobility or have other disabilities. We have young people who have grown up here, but cannot afford the high housing costs. We have a small but visible community of black and minority ethnic groups.  On Hindhead Road there is a significant community at an Islamic study centre, and my own immediate neighbours are a Syrian refugee family.  While campaigning for the local and EU elections, I also noticed a surprising number of Eastern European names on the electoral register. Inevitably, there is also a significant proportion of LGBGT people – just as there are, everywhere.

I do not suppose that any of our existing policies or practices deliberately discriminate against any of these groups, but in practice, it is all too easy to take decisions that benefit people “like us”, and inadvertently do not include others or take account of their unique needs. We need consciously to consider all members of our community in our deliberations. I was therefore pleased when my proposal was eagerly accepted by the Finance and Governance committee. The revised policy, submitted to the full town council for its meeting this week, now includes the statement:

It is the aim of the Council to ensure that no one with whom the Council interacts receives less favourable facilities or treatment (either directly or indirectly) on grounds of age, disability, gender / gender reassignment, marriage / civil partnership, pregnancy / maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation (the protected characteristics).

This was accepted unanimously, without need for discussion. Haslemere is now stated its clear intention to be a fully inclusive town.

As an openly gay man, it is LGBT inclusion that most directly affects me personally, but it was not this in particular that motivated my proposal. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that after Guildford raised the rainbow flag in June,  I made a passing suggestion on Twitter about possibly doing the same next year. Cllr Odell immediately replied that we are the “proud owners” of such a flag, and our town clerk soon after approached me to discuss this. We now have agreement that Haslemere will hoist the rainbow flag for Surrey Pride day this year, August 10th. No doubt, we will make further arrangements for 2020 and future years.

Rainbow flag, Guildford (image: Eagle News)

Facing the Climate & Environmental Crisis.

This past week, Haslemere, Godalming and Woking councils followed counterparts across the country, and dealt with motions to declare a climate emergency.  Godalming and Woking passed theirs. Haslemere did not, but accepted the principle, and left the detail to a working group, to be dealt with at our September meeting. Was this obviously disappointing – is there a possible silver lining?

 

Continue reading “Facing the Climate & Environmental Crisis.”