The leaders of Surrey’s 11 borough and district councils have urged government ministers to keep an open mind on emerging proposals to change how local government works in the county.
At present services are provided by local borough and district councils including Mole Valley District Council (MVDC), which organises refuse collection, planning, social housing, environmental health and licensing, and Surrey County Council (SCC), which provides adults’ and children’s services, highways, education and libraries.
During the spring, the government announced its interest in more areas of the UK becoming unitary authorities, in which one council provides all services in a geographic area. It indicated that unitaries representing a population of a minimum of 300,000 to 500,000 people would be acceptable.
Early-stage comments have been put forward to ministers by the Leader of SCC, Councillor Tim Oliver, for a single Surrey-wide council serving 1.2 million people. But the borough and district council leaders say that only by hearing all opinions can the wellbeing of residents be safeguarded.
In a joint letter to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the 11 council leaders say: “This is one of the reasons why it is so necessary to evaluate other options which may represent localities (and the characteristics of Surrey communities) more appropriately…we would urge you to retain an open mind as to the future shape of local government in Surrey.”
The councillors, representing every part of the county, call on Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to give them a fair hearing if SCC is asked to submit a more detailed proposal.
The borough and district council leaders say: “We ask that if [you are] minded to invite a submission from Surrey County Council, you also invite business cases for one or more alternative models [of local government structure] from the combined efforts of the districts and boroughs of Surrey for the future of local government in Surrey.
“Only in this way can you be reassured that any decision about local government reorganisation in Surrey also safeguards the wellbeing of our residents, maximises the future transformation of the area, and secures its contribution to national prosperity.”
Commenting on the letter, Councillor Stephen Cooksey, Leader of MVDC, said: “This is not just a question for people interested in local politics, it’s an important question for everyone about how our councils are run and how services are provided for residents. The priorities that local councils choose and their local accountability affects the lives of all Surrey residents.
“The government has indicated that it wants to see some form of change to the present system and there will be considerable debate across the county about whether change is necessary and if so what those changes should be. It is critically important that residents have their say. What I and all Surrey district and borough leaders are asking for from the government is a level playing field so that all views can be assessed equally and fairly.”
Surrey Leaders Group is a forum for the leaders of all councils within Surrey to meet to discuss issues relevant to all councils in the area. The current chair is Councillor Nick Prescot, Leader of Runnymede Borough Council.