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Surrey's Conservative administration has announced their plans to scrap all 11 local borough councils in Surrey. The Conservative Leader of Surrey County Council has announced his bid to make the whole of Surrey one Unitary Authority, meaning that all the services provided by the Surrey boroughs would be controlled by a monolithic administration based in Kingston.
The reason for this attempted power grab is that central government is due to publish a White Paper in the autumn which will define a new framework for local government. This is expected to promote Unitary Authorities and the announcement by Surrey CC is an early bid to influence the outcome.
At present local services are provided by both Surrey CC and Spelthorne Borough Council. Surrey is responsible for services such as waste disposal, fire services and highways with Spelthorne dealing with doorstep waste collection, local planning, local housing etc. In a Unitary Authority, all the services would be under the control of a single council.
The move to Unitary Authorities is driven by the desire to achieve savings by reducing overheads associated with multiple bodies and achieving economies of scale. In practice, these benefits may not arise and there will be a price to pay, with services moving away from residents and into remote bureaucracies.
For years, the residents of Spelthorne have been either ignored or had anti-social activities dumped on us by Surrey. We had the EcoPark incinerator dumped on us because other parts of leafy Surrey didn't want it. Surrey CC are very happy to allow gravel extraction anywhere in Spelthorne. Such behaviour will only get worse if the whole of Surrey becomes a single Unitary Authority.
Spelthorne Liberal Democrats are currently looking at the options and we will be working with other areas and political groups to formulate an alternative proposal which will focus on the best way to provide services to residents. One possible option would be to split Surrey into three authorities and retain a much high level of local accountability, but still being able to realise economies from shared services.
Local government has the most direct impact on people's daily lives - it deals with education, social care, refuse, housing and so much more. It is therefore crucial that Councils are connected to local people through the councillors who serve on them as community representatives. If the idea of unitary authorities is to be explored for Surrey, then the needs of people and communities must come first in the decision making.
Whatever the final decision, it must be made in an open and transparent manner, with cross-party involvement. Residents made clear in last year's local elections that they no longer supported the Conservative vision for our county. Out of the 11 local Borough/District Councils across Surrey, only two are now controlled outright by the Conservatives. Massive majorities were slashed to nothing. The Conservatives here are losing control and this is nothing more than a desperate effort to redraw boundaries for their benefit.
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