Cllr Chris Botten – LibDem leader’s opposition speech to the County Council Budget.

All Lib Dem Councillors and most opposition voted against this budget which was passed 54:17 with 3 abstentions.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am setting out this morning the reasons
why I and my group will be voting against the budget papers as
presented to us; we understand the extreme difficulties the council
faces in producing a balanced budget, but we believe some core
principles have been elided and some significant failures to address
important issues are manifest.
In terms of the failures, they are as follows:
There is a failure to update our treasury management policies so as to
generate the best level of income from investment funds; as a result,
there are cuts in services which might otherwise be unnecessary. We
need to be up with the best at this and aiming for at least 6%; we are
far from there.
There is a failure to address our property portfolio in what is looking
like a failed Joint Venture so that residents see valuable property
empty, boarded up and wasting valuable resource. This is bad for the
council’s image with residents, misses key opportunities to support
funding for services and leaves an outward and visible sign of inaction
and neglect.
The budget is balanced by identifying savings in adult social care and
children’s services, the vast majority of which are invisible to
members, are identified as risky or very risky in terms of deliverability
and of which the impact on residents we cannot know. We cannot
sign off the unknown.
While we recognise the necessity, we cannot know how residents’
entitlements will be affected. We welcome the fact that there is now
a drive to improve our children’s services, but we cannot know how
this drive is balanced with very deep cuts. We are asked to trust; we
are asked to take a leap in the dark.

If we voted for this budget, we would be guessing at the impact on
residents and so cannot make an informed judgement. While it is
hard to know how the impacts could have been made known to us,
the cuts required are deeper and more wide ranging as a result of the
council’s failure to address the deep rooted problems which have
been identified over the last five years at least; the council’s
complacency, its wishful thinking, its banking on a chimerical bail-out,
and failure to address the treasury management and property
portfolio comes back to haunt us and make life so much harder.
We support the thrust of the proposals on SEND but have major
concerns about how families will experience the process; there is a
major issue of trust which families have in the fairness, timeliness and
appropriateness of SEND provision while so many children have to
travel outside Surrey and have to fight for their children’s
entitlements. We cannot take these matters on trust. When you
consult in future, please be specific about what you are consulting on.
We cannot support the closure of the children’s centres as currently
proposed. The failure to have a satellite in South Tandridge, the
closure of the Leatherhead centre which serves the very deprived
North Leatherhead population, indicates that the analysis of the
current provision is either hurried or flawed. More work should have
been done to configure the new proposals more sensitively, possibly
with a phased roll out.
We cannot support the budget because our back office costs are
among the most expensive in the country. We find it baffling that we are cutting services deep and paying £2.5m on interim management-
with so many appointments invisible to members and staff disappearing without explanation. That doesn’t mean we have a problem with the staff recruited- we don’t, we have a problem with the lack of transparency and process, and we have to explain it to residents. The problem is, we can’t.

We can’t support the budget because despite all my urging in this
chamber many times, residents are going to pay more for services
without the confidence that their quality will be properly assured.
I have asked for a charter which will promise that contracts will be
properly enforced, potholes will stay repaired and the council’s
services will earn a reputation for competence. Our Vision to 2030
needs to contain a more explicit compact so that residents can be
sure that their hard earned taxes will pay for safe, competent, class
leading services we can be proud of. We have a long way to go before
we can get to that.
We do not underestimate the challenges the council faces or the
crisis in local government funding; the austerity programme is
unnecessary and ideologically driven.
So we cannot collude with cuts we can’t understand, which are
deeper than they need be, and which will have impacts we cannot
know, let alone measure. We need a charter of promises for our
residents to guarantee them quality and trust.
This budget is a leap in the dark for a council with no parachute.

Lib Dems condemn essential services cuts and call for Surrey County Council to listen to its residents

January 22, 2019 2:39 PM
Cabinet papers* released yesterday by Surrey County Council reveal the outcomes of recent consultations carried out in relation to a number of essential services provided by the Council. The public consultations were based on a set of proposals for five service areas:
• Children’s centres
• Community recycling centres
• Concessionary bus travel
• Libraries and culture
• Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
The consultation delivered over 28,000 responses from across the county, yet seem to have been somewhat overlooked in the recommendations to the Cabinet.

Cllr Chris Botten, Leader of the Liberal Democrats at Surrey County Council, said:
“The recommendation to close 31 of Surrey’s Children Centres is very saddening news. The consultation responses seem to have been completely ignored here, as nobody wants to see the centres closed. The centres provide support for families most in need, and now not everyone will be able to easily access them.

“Whilst it is positive that the recommendation surrounding Community Recycling Centres (CRCs) has been reviewed to now only close 4, instead of 6 as originally proposed, it is apparent that closing these 4 CRCs will not save that much money compared to the £2.5m being spent on external consultants. But one thing that is certain is that the closures will increase both queues at the sites that remain open, and increase fly tipping in the areas where the CRCs are closed.

“These cuts are a result of serious mismanagement of the Council and a lack of forward planning. I am also concerned that these cuts are not the end of the story, because the books are still not balanced. What services will be under threat next?”

NOTES

  • https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=120&MId=6322&Ver=4

Lib Dems condemn Surrey County Council’s £2.5m bill for contract staff

News today* has revealed that the cost of temporary officers at Surrey County Council is £2.5m. The news comes at a time when the Council are proposing a number of cuts to essential services, affecting Children’s Centres, bus subsidies, Community Recycling Centres and Libraries.

Prior to the appointment of new Chief Executive, Joanna Killian, in March 2018, the Council had just one contract for an interim member of staff. The contract bill for temporary and interim staff now stands at £2.5m.

Cllr Fiona White, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on the People, Performance and Development Committee said:
“I have two reactions to this very disturbing news: firstly, can the previous officers, cleared out so rapidly, have been so ineffective that emergency recruitment has been necessary? If so, how did that happen?
“Secondly, there has been no democratic accountability in the appointment of these people, who may be wonderful, but their appointments have bypassed the appropriate scrutiny committee and been agreed without member involvement. The total bill is extortionate, and makes the difference between keeping our children’s centres open and closing so many of them.”

NOTES
*https://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/cost-temporary-officers-surrey-county-15683495

We are more, when united.

I refer readers to Councillor Cosser’s letter in the December 21st Surrey Advertiser, “Compass: so much for ‘working together’’”. This was his response to the December 14th contribution from the South West Surrey Compass Group on the value of a cross-party approach for the progressive left in their opposition to the ineffective and entrenched Tory party.

In his letter, Councillor Cosser referred to my involvement during the 2017 snap General Election campaign supporting Dr Louise Irvine, an admirably qualified National Health Action Party member and progressive alliance candidate, in her challenge to Jeremy Hunt, then Minister for Health, over his poor record on the NHS. In this type of situation, and unless and until the “First Past the Post” electoral system changes to one that is more proportional and fairer, those of us on the progressive left should seriously consider lending support to the candidate best placed to give real challenge to the Tories. During the campaign, I was very fortunate to receive advice from Paddy Ashdown who was championing the “More United” cause.

Such “arrangements” are not new. In the 1951 General Election, Churchill himself persuaded the local Conservative Party in Colne Valley not to oppose the Liberal candidate, Lady Violet Bonham Carter, giving her a clear run against Labour. She was narrowly defeated, losing by 2189 votes (4.1%). In the 1997 General Election, and following Neil Hamilton’s implication in the Cash for Questions scandal of the 1990s, Martin Bell was elected MP for Tatton when he was not opposed by Labour and Liberal Democrats who supported him in his anti-corruption campaign. Patrick O’Flynn, the UKIP party’s economics spokesman, said in May 2017 that UKIP could have managed to field candidates across the country but chose to stand only 377 because of promises made to its local branches by many pro-Brexit Conservative candidates and two Labour candidates.

I have been a Liberal Democrat party member for many years, and of course, I still am, but having worked with local members of the Green and Labour parties, it is true that, in the words of Jo Cox, “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. I have absolutely no problem working with other progressive left parties to take the challenge to the Tory power-base who seem to govern for the “haves”, while neglecting the “have-nots”.

The Tories have built a baleful legacy of Brexit, Austerity, Universal Credit, homelessness with the deaths of rough sleepers, the need for food banks, hungry children, expensive hospital car parking and a lack of road maintenance leading to proliferation of potholes. What do they have to be proud of? Austerity is a policy of choice. Quoting Aneurin Bevan, “How can wealth persuade poverty to use its political power to keep wealth in power? Here lies the whole art of Conservative politics”.

In the words of Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights: “It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.  And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.  Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centres have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centres have been sold off.”

I agree with Councillor Cosser in his hope that, “the electorate will ask all candidates some searching questions as to their policies and allegiances and most important of all, what positively they propose to do for our community if elected”.

Whatever 2019 brings, let us stand in solidarity with the vulnerable, the poor, the refugees and the homeless, and work together for the betterment of our society.

Wishing you a safe, healthy and happy Christmas and onward into 2019

We are indeed fortunate in our community of Farncombe and Godalming to have so many great local volunteer groups and organisations providing support and care.

These photos show just a few – the Farncombe Day Centre offers a welcome, advice, companionship and hot food, as does the Denningberg Centre.

The Lions collect funds for others all year round as well as contribute to emergency situations.

The Meath is a centre of excellence of care and a home with real warmth for those who live there

And one of the highlights of this Christmas season  for me was the choir from Broadwater School singing, “O Holy Night”, at the Town Carol Service.

By working together we can do so much more – may we never take our community for granted but accept the gift of those who give so generously and that includes the volunteers from Churches Together who give many hours of Christmas Day itself to the Lunch for those who would otherwise be on their own.

Statement from Cllr Chris Botten on the HMICFRS report

December 20, 2018 11:09 AM

Chris Botten Large

Responding to the publication of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services report into Surrey Fire and Rescue, Cllr Chris Botten, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Surrey County Council said:

“Yet again we read of a Surrey Service which has been judged Requires Improvement or Inadequate. Perhaps the report’s most troubling criticism is that the service doesn’t have a robust operational model and needs to ensure it has enough resources, (people and equipment) available to respond to risk in line with its risk management plan.

This concern chimes with issues raised directly with us by the FBU, and will worry residents of Surrey. I note that a response since the Inspection has been to recruit 30 full time firefighters with another 16 to be recruited by the Spring, which will give some comfort, but yet again residents are having to read that a vital service is not of the quality they have the right to expect.

I set the new Council Leader a challenge at the last council meeting, that Surrey County Council must be competent and trustworthy. The Fire Service is another area which fails that test. Cuts in service are having to be reversed because poor judgements were made and the Fire Fighters themselves not listened to.

Let’s hope that the new leadership at SCC turns this service round quickly- dedicated fire fighters and residents deserve no less.”

Dear Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

Thank you for your letter.

I remain unconvinced by your approach and with your deal. Until and unless you and your Government tell us that this country and every citizen will be better off economically than we are now, then in my opinion there is no way that anyone could support your way forward, let alone unite behind you.
As a Surrey County Councillor, will I be able to reassure residents that potholes will be filled and that, for instance, libraries and Sure Start centres will stay open? Surely the way to renew and reconcile the whole country is to invest in and massively improve public services.
You wrote to us which must mean that you want to hear what we think. If you are sincere in this, then please give us a People’s Vote on the terms of your deal.

Yours sincerely,
Penny Rivers

More cuts to come, have your say!

https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/have-your-say/consultations

As you will read in this link, the Conservative Government has cut the core grant to the Conservative-led Surrey County Council by £200million since 2010. SCC has already made £500million reduction in expenditure on vital services and now it seeks to “save” a further £85million expenditure over the next year and has launched a public consultation on this range of services:

  • Family Resilience: Children’s Centres
  • Concessionary bus travel
  • Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
  • Libraries and Cultural Services
  • Community Recycling Centres

Have your say online and/or at:

Wednesday 12 December 10am – 12pm Wilfrid Noyce Community Centre (Wyatt Room)
Crown Court car park, Godalming GU7 1DY

Lib Dems, Labour and Green Party and some members of the Residents Association have consistently voted against cuts. But even combined and numbering 17 we are massively out-voted