Published Thursday, 23 July 2020
Waverley Borough Council has approved a motion to oppose a single Surrey-wide unitary authority.
At the Full Council meeting on Wednesday 22 July, the motion to explore other options around the shape and structure of local government in Surrey was backed by 51 members from across all political parties and independent councillors. No councillor voted against the motion and two abstained.
The motion was brought to the meeting in response to Surrey County Council’s proposal to set up a Surrey-wide unitary authority, in light of an anticipated government Recovery and Devolution White Paper, due to be published this autumn.
Instead of Surrey County Council’s suggested approach, Waverley councillors felt that other forms of unitary set-ups should be explored by the Executive, including considering opportunities to work with neighbouring counties and districts.
Councillor John Ward, Leader of Waverley Borough Council, proposed the motion, which stated that Surrey County Council’s proposal for a single unitary authority was ‘incompatible’ with the principles of localism. It was seconded by the Deputy Leader of Waverley Borough Council Councillor, Paul Follows.
Councillor Ward said: “We ought to be focussing on what is best for the people we serve, first and foremost. In my opinion, Surrey County Council’s proposal will mean less democratic accountability for local people over the areas they live in – and will also mean that local towns and villages will have to compete for attention and financial investment if covered by a county-wide gargantuan authority.
“This news comes at a time when this borough council has really stepped up for the community and shown its value, by providing critical support to residents throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Let’s not forget how local people have also come together with us to support those who are most vulnerable in the community. We must continue to build on this fantastic work and listen to, empower and support our communities. There has already been a lack of consultation and discussion on Surrey’s proposal, so this doesn’t instil me with confidence in the future of local democracy under their plan. How can Surrey County Council be sure this is right for our communities and not just a financial experiment, when the public have not yet been consulted?
“If the experiences of the last few months have taught us anything, it is that a return to ‘normal’ is not an option and we have to embrace change. But we cannot support what we feel goes directly against the interests of our residents and takes power away from communities. I look forward to discussing the range of options with our parish and town councils, neighbouring and Surrey districts, and the county council, hopefully in a very open and constructive way.”