Key County Services Under Threat

In the week that Chancellor Philip Hammond MP announced, in his budget, that ‘Austerity is Over’, the Conservatives on Surrey County Council firmly disagreed with him and proclaimed that ‘Austerity is not over’.

This disagreement stems from the huge financial pressures facing the County Council: the number of residents needing support – whether it is for learning disabilities or elderly care – is rising. For instance, Surrey already has more than 93,000 residents aged over 65 who can’t manage a domestic task on their own and it is expected that this will rise by 36 per cent by 2030.

But instead of arguing that the County Council needs to be funded from central government to deliver these vital social services – just like the NHS is funded centrally to provide healthcare – our Conservative Councillors are looking to cut a further £85m from other essential services across the county to fund them.

And they have issued a series of public consultations covering:

* Children’s Centres;

* Concessionary bus travel;

* Special Educational Needs and Disabilities;

* Libraries and Cultural Services; and

* Community Recycling Centres

as these services are to bear the brunt of the cuts.

In these so-called ‘consultations’ residents are being asked to choose between one unacceptable alternative and another unacceptable alternative – the choices that residents want to make are nowhere to be seen in the “tick-box” consultation.

The County Council will then use these flawed consultations to justify which unacceptable cuts to make to these services, services which have already been cut to the bone in previous rounds of cuts.

Surrey Liberal Democrats are, however, asking all residents to respond to the consultation – which is open until Friday 4 January 2019 – and to make their views clear not just through the “tick-box” answers but to explain why all the options are unacceptable in the “freeform” comments section.

The consultations can be found at: https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/have-your-say/consultation

Make sure your voice is heard!

Gatwick Airport Proposes that its Emergency Runway becomes its Second Runway

Mole Valley Liberal Democrats have reacted with dismay to reports Gatwick Airport might convert their emergency runway into a second runway, bypassing controls on airport expansion when a restriction runs out next year and Parliamentary Spokesperson Paul Kennedy has called on Secretary of State Chris Grayling MP to intervene to ensure the change is not slipped in by the back door.

The plans come a week after the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned we had just 12 years to prevent a global climate change catastrophe. The plans would involve an increase in air traffic by up to 30%, and potentially more if Gatwick is able to get the runway extended in the future.

There are also concerns that the loss of the emergency runway would endanger the public and exacerbate chaos in the event of an incident.

Liberal Democrats have consistently opposed any additional runways in the South-East – whether at Gatwick, Heathrow or Stansted – citing noise and environmental concerns and the need to rebalance the United Kingdom economy away from the overheated South-East.

Liberal Democrat Parliamentary spokesperson Paul Kennedy said it was crazy for the Conservative Government now to allow expansion of both Heathrow and Gatwick Airports. He said:

“Mole Valley residents are already suffering from changes to Gatwick’s flight paths, and there is concern that most of the additional traffic will fly directly over our towns and villages.

“There must be real questions about the economic and environmental rationale for this change, given the huge amount of Government funding already going into expanding Heathrow. There is no justification for the Conservative Government to allow both Heathrow and Gatwick Airports to start using extra runways.

“Chris Grayling should intervene to ensure full public consideration of the economic, safety, noise and climate change implications of the proposals before any such change can even be considered. Gatwick should not be allowed to subvert the national airport planning framework.”

Unpopular Parking Charges on the County Council’s Countryside Estate Equals Near Empty Car Parks in Norbury Park and Little Income

Parking charges of £1.30 per hour, with a maximum charge of £5.00 per day, were introduced in the car parks on Surrey County Council’s Countryside Estate, including those at Norbury Park, on 6 August 2018 despite significant opposition from local residents. Previously there was no charge.

Following the introduction of the parking charges, the car parks, unsurprisingly, have been virtually empty. Instead, as we predicted, local residents who enjoy walking in the countryside, including those who exercise their dogs, are parking for free on nearby roads or in other car parks which do not have a charge.

This makes a mockery of the County Council’s stated aim to increase income which could be put towards the cost of maintaining or improving the Council’s Countryside Estate.

In addition, with it costing £45,000 to install the ticket machines in Norbury Park and with the estimated income from the Norbury Park car parks being £20,000pa, it will take over two years for the income raised to cover the cost incurred if this level of income is achieved.

The Liberal Democrats believe that these car parking charges have backfired on the Conservative administration at County Hall. Through these charges, the County Council is discouraging rather than encouraging the use of its car parks, is failing to raise sufficient income to cover the costs of the ticket machines, and is not raising additional funding to maintain the Countryside Estate. We believe that these parking charges on the Countryside Estate should be revoked.

Forestry Commission Refuses Lease Renewal Ending Proposals to Drill for Oil in Coldharbour

The Forestry Commission has notified Europa Oil & Gas that the Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has decided to not renew the lease for the site and, as a consequence of this decision, Europa Oil and Gas have withdrawn their planning application to drill for oil at this site.

We are delighted and relieved with this decision and the consequent abandonment of the plans to drill for oil at Leith Hill. The proposal was never appropriate in an area of outstanding natural beauty, in an area where the water supplies could have been put at risk, and where it was impossible to develop a realistic traffic management plan for works vehicles to access the site.

It has been a ten year battle to convince those who make the decisions of this and the battle has finally been won. It has been a rollercoaster of a campaign with successes and setbacks along the way. This victory is thanks to the tenacity of the many hardworking and dedicated local residents and campaigners led by the Leith Hill Action Group who have devoted themselves to protecting Leith Hill from this inappropriate development.

Surrey Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services Needs Improvement

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have called for urgent improvements to Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services, known as CAMHS, in Surrey.

Surrey County Council currently commissions these services from Surrey & Borders NHS Trust but there has been strong criticism of the long waiting times for routine assessments and appointments.

We have looked at why this service has been so heavily criticised and we believe that there is an urgent moral and practical need to improve CAMHS services in Surrey so that vulnerable young people get the help they need and quickly.

We have noted that many Councillors across Surrey regularly receive communications from distraught parents and carers who are trying to get appointments and treatment for children and young people but cannot.

We have also seen the County Council’s lack of urgency and failure to monitor and enforce the terms of its contract under which it procures these services – the County Council has not invoked any penalty clauses, nor have any payments been withheld.

We believe that we can and must do much better than this, and the County Council should not rule out procuring the service from elsewhere.

We want to see a long-term solution to the increased demand for these services and are calling for Surrey County Council to establish a research partnership with the University of Surrey to help the County Council understand why demand for these services is rising and to be able to plan CAMHS services and resources much more effectively in the future. We owe it to children and young people across Surrey to get these crucial services right.

Lessons Must Be Learned from Parsons Green Bombing

The Home Office has issued a letter (18 June 2018) to the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee regarding Ahmed Hassan’s interaction with the police and Home Office prior to the Parsons Green bombing incident in September 2017.

Surrey Liberal Democrats, for a number of months, have been pressing for a report on the lessons to be learnt from the review of this incident to be put in the public domain and we are pleased that this letter has been published and that the lessons that need to be learned are now available for all to see and to be acted upon.

The fact that there was no formal documented plan to manage Ahmed Hassan’s risks and vulnerabilities was a fundamental gap in his care and the lack of such a plan meant that he did not get the support that he needed and appropriate action was not taken.

It is clear that various warning signs were not acted upon in terms of his demeanour, behaviour and his periods missing from home, with the delay in processing his asylum application clearly causing him concern. It is also clear that sharing of information, training and processes between those involved in the care of asylum seekers need to be improved for the future.

We fully support the County Council’s commitment to carry out training for social workers to identify signs of radicalisation, which is a necessary step forward, and believe that everything possible must be done to ensure that a similar incident does not happen in the future.

£196 Million Spending Cuts Plan at County Hall

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have expressed their concern after it was revealed that Surrey County Council is planning to reduce spending on services by nearly £200 million by the end of March 2020.

The figures were released in a report to the County Council’s Cabinet alongside the Conservative-administration’s decision to hire consultants, at an undisclosed sum, to assist with the County Council’s “programme management and change capacity” project.

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have highlighted the adverse impact on vital council services that would result from a spending reduction of almost £200m over the next two years, noting that Surrey residents rely on the County Council for well-maintained roads, recycling centres, libraries, children’s centres and youth services.

The County Council’s financial problems have been compounded as the Conservative-administration failed to act upon the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) report “Financial Resilience Review – Surrey County Council” which was published in December 2016 and which stated that the County Council lacked a “credible cost reduction plan” and highlighted the County Council’s “rapidly declining reserves”.

The County Council’s belated realisation that it is facing a financial crisis means that even more drastic cuts are being proposed than would have otherwise been necessary. And as these cuts bite, the Leader of the Council places the blame at the poor financial settlements from the government despite every one of his colleagues at Westminster who represents a Surrey constituency voting for the most recent settlement rather than his own handling of the County Council’s finances.

The spending cuts will undoubtedly mean that services currently provided to Surrey residents will be withdrawn. Quite frankly, Surrey residents deserve better.

REVEALED: Surrey’s £298 MILLION Commercial Property Portfolio Delivers Zero Income for County Council Services

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have expressed significant concerns after it was revealed that Surrey County Council has not spent any of the income derived from its £298 million commercial property portfolio on council services.

Surrey County Council, either itself or through its wholly owned subsidiary company Halsey Garton, has purchased 23 commercial properties, 65% of which are situated outside of the county across England. The total amount invested is £298,073,000.

And the County Council has been transferring the rental income from these commercial properties (£3.8m) into its Revolving Infrastructure & Investment Fund, which is used to support the purchasing of commercial property, despite one of the central tenets of the County Council’s original Investment Strategy being to “generate additional income for the council that can be used to provide additional financial support for the delivery of functions and services”.

​These transfers have taken place despite the Conservative Cabinet Member for Property & Business Services stating: “We also have an additional need to generate an income from our strategy if we are to have any hope of raising enough money to fund the services our residents need.”

Liberal Democrat County Councillors are deeply concerned that none of the income derived from this extensive property investment portfolio has so far been used to support council services when the County Council is proposing millions of pounds of cuts to services in this financial year and have called for this income to be used to support the County Council’s services.

Lib Dems Call for Inquiry after Surrey County Council Apologises for Failings in Parsons Green Bomb Case

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have called for a review of the County Council’s admitted failings in the Parsons Green bomb incident following Ahmed Hassan, 18, being convicted of attempted murder on 16 March 2018. He had been placed in foster care in Sunbury by Surrey County Council since the summer of 2016.

We want the Council to conduct a review into the County Council’s role in this case, and for the findings to be published alongside any recommendations following an inquiry along the lines of a serious case review.

This was an incredibly serious incident that deserves a high level of scrutiny as hundreds of people could have been killed and injured if this attack had been successful. The County Council should be totally transparent about learning the lessons from it and trying to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

We would have expected a statement to have been made by the Leader of the Council at the Council meeting last week, to update members and the public as to how the County Council would be addressing the concerns raised by this case. Unfortunately this did not happen.

We now hope that the Leader of the Council will agree to set up a review as a matter of urgency so that the County Council can learn the lessons of this serious incident and implement any necessary changes as quickly as possible.

£0.75 Billion Bill to Fix Surrey’s Roads and Footways

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have revealed that it would take over three quarters of a billion pounds to repair the county’s roads and footways to an “as new” standard and that at the current rate of spending, it would take the Conservative-run County Council almost 50 years to complete this work.

The fact that Surrey’s roads and footways are in such a dreadful condition is not news to residents who have to drive over many potholes every day.

That £754 million of spending is needed to bring them up to a decent standard is quite shocking, and only highlights the inadequacy of the County Council’s recently announced £5million of additional funding for road repairs.

We believe that the County Council needs to set out a far more ambitious plan to improve our roads and footways after decades of neglect and underfunding and we have called on the County Council to adopt a more proactive approach to repairing the roads and to invest now so as to save money on costly repairs and compensation later, and in doing so ensuring that we have a road network in Surrey of which our residents can be proud.