County Council Election Campaign Launched

Surrey Liberal Democrats have unveiled a full slate of 81 candidates across every division in Surrey to take on the Conservative-administration at County Hall in May’s elections – the only opposition party to do so.

We are delighted that we are fielding such a strong set of candidates for the County Council elections in May. We need a fresh start in Surrey and an end to the ‘crisis management’ at County Hall which has resulted in the 15% council tax fiasco, £123m of cuts to services, ‘gentleman’s agreements’, secret recordings and leaked text messages, all of which saw Surrey in the newspapers and TV bulletins for all the wrong reasons.

In recent weeks, Liberal Democrat County Councillors led the successful campaign to stop the 15% council tax increase proposed by the Conservative administration at County Hall and we will continue to oppose any future attempts to impose such a large council tax increase on Surrey residents.

Now, Liberal Democrat candidates across the county are fighting for an end to the financial waste and culture of secrecy at County Hall and are campaigning to improve the condition of Surrey’s roads and footways, to re-instate the opening hours of tips and an end to the “Tory Tip Tax” on DIY household waste, to introduce more special educational needs places within Surrey, to increase the amount of youth service provision, to give more support for carers and the voluntary sector, and to improve road safety across the county.

We are also opposed to the expansion of Heathrow and Gatwick airports and are committed to protecting the Green Belt from oil drilling.

Surrey needs a fresh start, an end to the chaos at County Hall, and only the Liberal Democrats can provide it.

Petition Launched to Stop Surrey Schools Losing £37million by 2020

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have launched a petition to fight against school funding cuts in Surrey. This follows recent figures published by the National Union of Teachers which show that schools in Surrey will lose £37 million in real terms by 2020.

Current levels of funding in Surrey are not enough if schools are to manage the new cost pressures that they face such as increases in National Insurance and a new tax to pay for apprenticeships.

In addition, the County Council is being squeezed by the Conservative Government’s 75% cut in the funding it uses to support school improvements and provide local schools with music lessons, ICT equipment and accounting advice.

As a result, schools across the county are considering drastic cost-cutting proposals, including increasing class sizes and reducing the number of teachers and teaching assistants. One school has even warned of a four day school week,

This is why we have launched the petition calling for the Government to increase funding for Surrey schools to protect them from the need to make damaging cuts in the face of reduced funding and increasing costs over the next three years.

The petition can be signed at: https://surreylibdems.org.uk/en/petition/stop-school-cuts-in-surrey

Leader Survives No Confidence Motion

The Leader of Surrey County Council has survived the motion of no confidence in his leadership. As a result, the residents of Surrey have been denied the fresh start that is so desperately needed.

This outcome does not solve the excessive secrecy within the County Council, which has been the hallmarks of the current Conservative leadership, and it does not repair the County Council’s damaged reputation with the residents it was elected to serve.

Instead it means the continuation of a secretive culture at County Hall which serves its own interests, and those of the Conservative Party, rather than those of Surrey residents. It also shows that Conservative Councillors have endorsed the Leader’s 15% council tax strategy, which was totally and utterly rejected by the people of Surrey.

We note that almost a fifth of the Conservative Group did not vote for the Leader or did not show up to support the Leader of the Council – hardly a ringing endorsement. We therefore look forward to the County Council elections in May where residents can have the final say on this discredited administration.

Liberal Democrats Call for Leader of Surrey County Council to Quit

Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council have called for the Leader of the Council, Councillor David Hodge, to resign or face a Motion of No Confidence following the release of emails last night which revealed he had written to the Prime Minister asking for more cash “so that Surrey will continue to be a heartland for the Conservatives“. In another email he bemoaned the fact that the Conservative Government “ties my hands and fails to support…(the)…largest Conservative Group in UK“.

This is not a decision we have taken lightly but we cannot go on like this, with a Leader of the Council whose credibility is being continually undermined by new revelations, leaked emails, text messages and secret recordings. This has become a hugely time-consuming distraction for the County Council from what it should be concentrating on, which is to serve the residents of Surrey.

We are very clear that Surrey County Council needs a fairer funding deal with central government to fund the gap in adult social care. However, the Leader of the Council has approached this in totally the wrong way with the use of secrecy, calling in favours, “gentleman’s agreements” and an unwillingness to share vital information with elected councillors and residents. I think this approach has failed and has damaged Surrey’s case for getting a better deal from government.

The judgement of the Leader of the Council came into question when he and his Cabinet colleagues unanimously voted for a 15% council tax rise and a referendum to take place on 4 May, only to back down a week later at the Council’s Budget meeting, following opposition led by the Liberal Democrats and a huge outcry from Surrey residents.

The Leader of the Council should quit now as we need an end to the revelations, speculations and leaks so that the County Council can focus on providing services for residents. We need a fresh start with a new Leader of the Council who will approach the running of the council in an open and transparent way, focusing on serving Surrey residents.

Only 39% of Residents Agree that Surrey County Council Provides Value for Money

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have expressed their concern as new figures reveal poor levels of public satisfaction with Conservative-run Surrey County Council.

According to the latest figures from the county council’s own survey, just 39% of residents agreed that the county council provided value for money. The poor figures follow the Tory-run council’s decision to cancel a 15% council tax rise after a public outcry from Surrey residents.

Other findings included:

33% agreed that they can influence decisions by the county council

40% were satisfied with services for older people

33% were satisfied with road maintenance

38% were satisfied with the places provided for young people to meet

33% were satisfied with services for people with disabilities

Sadly this confirms what Liberal Democrat councillors have been saying for years: that the County Council is remote, inefficient and does not provide good value for money.

Library Resources Budget to be Cut by £346,000

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have expressed their anger at the cuts being made to the libraries resources budget as the Conservative County Council was forced to reveal cuts of £346,000 to this budget over the next two years.

The County Council’s Conservative administration plans to reduce the county’s library resources budget, used to buy items such as books and DVDs, by £346,000 – a cut of 22% – by 2019.

This reduction follows on from significant cuts in the amount of library stock owned by the county council, which has dropped from 1,597,830 items in December 2013 to 1,386,752 items in March 2016 – a reduction of 211,078 items.

The £346,000 cut was buried in the confidential section of council papers that was discussed at the County Council’s Cabinet. Liberal Democrat County Councillors objected to this excessive secrecy and successfully argued for the information on the cuts to library resources to be placed in the public part of the council papers so that residents could find out what was happening to their libraries.

Budget Cuts Condemned as Surrey Residents are Asked to Pay More for Less

Liberal Democrats in Surrey have claimed victory as the Conservatives cancelled their planned 15% tax rise in the face of overwhelming opposition from Liberal Democrat councillors and Surrey residents. The Council tax will now increase by 4.99% in April.

We have also condemned the County Council’s budget as a charade as the Conservatives pushed through £123 million of unspecified cuts to council services and have criticised the shambolic way in which the budget debate was conducted with the Council meeting being adjourned three times with little or no explanation and with councillors being provided with just a few sheets of paper containing the new council tax proposals but no detail on any new funding from the government – funding which was needed to support the new proposals.

As events unfolded, councillors across the Council Chamber were astonished that no new government money was announced by the Leader of the Council in order to plug the gap in the council’s finances despite leaked messages showing that this had been discussed with government ministers.

The chaos clearly demonstrated how the Liberal Democrats and Surrey residents, thousands of whom signed a petition, had forced the Conservatives into last-minute action and to back down from their unpopular and unaffordable 15% council tax hike. But there is still no certainty over where the money to avoid drastic cuts to essential services in the next financial year will come from. The County Council was already facing the prospect of making £93 million of unspecified cuts next year even with the 15% tax hike and it will now have to find an extra £30 million on top of this – meaning that £123 million of cuts are on their way.

The reality is that the county council’s finances will remain in a poor condition until a fairer funding arrangement for vital adult social care services is agreed with central government. This is what Liberal Democrats are calling for and this is what was wholly missing from the Conservative budget.

The budget is a huge gamble with the County Council’s finances as the Conservatives have failed to provide any details of how the Council’s budget is sustainable next year let alone in the next few years. It appears that it has been proposed in a panic and has been solely designed to save Tory seats in the Surrey County Council elections in May rather than in an attempt to sort out the financial mess they have created.

Reverse the Charges for Disposing of Household Waste

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have written to the Minister of Local Government asking him to intervene and scrap the County Council’s unpopular charges for dumping certain household waste at our local Community Recycling Centres.

The County Council introduced the fees last year despite residents making their opposition to the charges clear during the public consultation on the charging proposal and despite 1,584 residents signing a petition calling for the charges not to be introduced. Since their introduction, more than 7,000 residents have signed a subsequent petition calling for the charges to be abolished.

In expressing their opposition to the charging proposal, residents have said that this service should be kept free at the point of use and have expressed fears that the charges will result in increased fly-tipping.

Meanwhile Hampshire County Council have recently suspended plans to introduce similar charges pending government advice.

Oil Drilling Must Be Tightly Controlled

We already have oil producing wells at Brockham and Albury, oil drilling at Horsehill, and a proposal to drill for oil on Leith Hill. As more oil has been found, there have been suggestions that we could have up to 1,000 wells drilled in clusters on around 100 sites of 2 to 5 acres across The Weald in the coming years as the oil reserves are exploited.

In response, Liberal Democrat County Councillors have called for a stronger planning regime covering plans to drill for oil across the South East of England to address the potential scale and environmental damage implied by this forecast.

We have called for Planning Authorities to receive full disclosure of the potential future development proposals for a site at the outset, not just details of the initial drilling work to be carried out, and are arguing that small initial developments should not be approved if it is clear that a more significant development is required for commercial oil exploitation.

The Liberal Democrats have also raised concerns about the potential risks of the processes that are likely to be adopted when extracting the oil reserves, the extra traffic that will be generated in rural lanes as the sites are built and then as the oil is transported away from the drilling site, and the potential contamination of our water source – the local aquifer, and want the Planning Authorities and the Environment Agency to scrutinise applications vigorously and impose strict conditions before any permission to drill for oil is granted.

Liberal Democrats Condemn Proposed 15% Council Tax Rise

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Liberal Democrat County Councillors have condemned the Conservative-run County Council’s proposal to increase the County Council element of the Council Tax by 15% – nine times the rate of inflation. If approved, this unprecedented increase would trigger a county-wide referendum on the proposals, with voters going to the polls on the same day as the county council elections on 4 May.

A yes vote will then add a 15% increase a year to bills for Band D properties and will still result in millions of pounds worth of cuts to essential services. A no vote will result in even more damaging cuts which is why Liberal Democrats have consistently called for a more appropriate level of funding from central government to the County Council to help avoid large cuts to vital services for Surrey residents.

The Liberal Democrats have opposed this huge increase in Council Tax as it would be unaffordable for many Surrey residents and as it would hit the elderly and those on fixed-incomes hardest. We believe that it is quite wrong for the Tories to try and shift this funding problem onto Surrey residents and will campaign for a “no” vote in the referendum.

The Liberal Democrats have also opposed this huge increase as it will still mean substantial increases in charges and cuts to services: the recent increase in social care charges, the cuts to grants awarded to voluntary organisations, and introduction of charges for disposing of household waste at the tips will not be reversed and the decision to close the County’s Alzheimer’s Centres will be implemented.

Furthermore, we believe that it is astonishing that the Conservative-administration thinks that Surrey residents should carry the can for their own financial failings and the government’s failure to properly fund services. The crisis in the funding of adult social care which is behind this increase needs a long-term solution from national government not a temporary sticking plaster, which is what a large Council Tax rise would offer.

The Conservatives that run both the County Council and the Government have clearly failed Surrey residents. A national solution is required for the funding of social care to meet the growth in demand and despite the Leader of Surrey County Council holding a prominent position in the Local Government Association and Surrey being represented in the Cabinet through three Cabinet Ministers, including the Chancellor and Health Secretary, the Conservative Party has failed to deliver an acceptable national solution for the funding of social care.