Published Friday, 31st July 2020
At Full Council last night, Reigate & Banstead Borough Council agreed to support further investigation into the future structure of local government in Surrey.
It also agreed the Council Leader, Cllr Mark Brunt, working with other authorities across the county, should develop a proposal which is place-based, close to local communities and continues to provide residents with the support and services they need.
In the Autumn, the Government is expected to publish a White Paper, setting out plans for expanding devolution, creating more elected Mayors in England and more unitary authorities. It indicated that unitaries representing a population of 300,000 to 500,000 people would be acceptable.
‘We are delighted the Council has backed this important proposal. Whilst we support the opportunity to consider local government reorganisation and recognise the potential benefits it could bring, agreeing the right model is imperative to delivering tailored, meaningful services to our residents”, said Cllr Brunt.
In Surrey, service delivery is currently split between 11 District and Borough Councils which organise refuse collection, planning, meals on wheels, social housing, environmental health and licensing, and the County Council, which provides adults and children’s services, highways, education and libraries.
Earlier this month, Leader of the County Council, Cllr Tim Oliver, wrote to the Secretary of State recommending a single Surrey-wide council serving 1.2 million people. He is expected to submit a full proposal in September.
Strong community links
“Our recent experience in responding to the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of localised, responsive decision-making and service provision, and of having local government that has a strong relationship with the communities that it serves. I have reservations that one unitary single Surrey-wide council could maintain such strong community links.
At the very least, we need to properly investigate the full range of options and consult carefully with all our stakeholders to ensure the interests of the borough and its residents are represented in any proposals developed,” continued Cllr Brunt.
Reigate & Banstead is not alone in its views.
Leaders of all 11 Surrey’s Districts and Borough Councils have submitted a joint letter to Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, asking him to keep an open mind on emerging proposals for how local government works in the county. In the letter, the Secretary of State is asked to consider alternative business cases to any which Surrey County Council may be making.
Cross-party working group
At the wish of the Council, Cllr Mark Brunt will be forming a cross-party working group to undertake the investigative work.
Cllr Jonathan Essex Group Leader for the Green Party commented: “We are committed to listening to residents and reflecting their views in any future proposals. A more local, alternative business case to Surrey County Council's based on these insights, should be a stronger democratic case, climate case and equality case”.
Residents Association Group Leader Cllr Nick Harrison said “It is important that local government is cost effective and improves its efficiency, but councils must continue to remain in close touch with local residents and serve their best interests”.
Cllr Stephen Kulka, Liberal Democrat Group Leader concluded “We embrace the opportunity to help shape the future of local government in Surrey. We welcome change but the right and most appropriate change to ensure the wellbeing of our residents, businesses and the borough as a whole”.