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.

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!


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

Another day at the rock face

It was the meeting of the Planning and Regulatory Committee – 10:30am on 8th August 2018.
The agenda alone was 253 pages in length! And there were many more pages to read from local residents about the proposal for:
MINERALS AND WASTE APPLICATION MO/2018/0444 – Brockham Wellsite, Felton’s Farm. The application is for retrospective and on-going permission to drill for oil and gas for three years.

As well as concerns about traffic, air and noise pollution and the industrialisation of the Green Belt, there are real worries about the recent cluster of earthquakes in Surrey. I am no geologist and accept that earthquakes have natural causes but the fact that 12 earthquakes have been recorded  in 6 months while drilling was happening, while no earthquakes had been recorded in the previous two centuries, should make all of us ask searching questions about risk and safety. In my opinion, unless this company can prove that their works did not cause the earthquakes, then permission should be deferred.

Both Lib Dem councillors – Stephen Cooksey and I – voted to defer, two  Tory councillors, Mary Angell and Edward Hawkins joining with us,  but we were out-voted and permission was granted. The vote was 7:4 to grant permission (with conditions) to drill.

There are more applications pending to drill for gas in the Surrey Hills.

Surrey’s Conservative Councillors award themselves a pay rise but promise huge cuts to County Council services

Liberal Democrat County Councillors in Surrey have heavily criticised the Conservative-administration at County Hall after Conservative Councillors awarded themselves thousands of pounds of extra allowances in a vote at Council yesterday. The vote means that 4 new Deputy Cabinet positions will be created, at a cost of £40K a year, as well as extra allowances for committee vice-chairs.

Liberal Democrat County Councillors opposed these increases and voted against them at County Hall.

Cllr Chris Botten, Leader of the Liberal Democrats at Surrey County Council, said:

“At a time when residents are looking to Surrey County Council to increase its cost effectiveness, and at a time when severe cuts in services are proposed, the Conservatives should not be looking to award themselves a pay rise. Many of our residents have had no real increase in their income for ten years and they will be appalled to see these increases voted through. The overall cost of allowances for members should be capped for three years and any adjustments made by moving money within the existing budget.”

Cllr Fiona White, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats at Surrey County Council, added:

“I told the Leader of the Council yesterday how I disappointed I was with his proposals to pay thousands of pounds of additional allowances to Conservative Councillors, whilst at the same time proposing huge cuts to essential services. The County Council is telling residents that difficult decisions need to be made on spending but at the same time is able to find extra money to keep backbench Conservative councillors happy. I am calling for the Conservative-administration to reverse this decision and instead put this money into front line services.”


A webcast of the meeting can be found here (with the Item on allowances starting at 1:39:00):


A copy of the Leader’s response to the Independent Remuneration Panel report can be found here:


The Council papers for this item can be found here (Item 15):


Surrey Lib Dems highlight £196 MILLION Tory cuts plan at County Hall

May 1, 2018 12:02 PM
Liberal Democrat county councillors have expressed their concern after it was revealed that Surrey County Council is planning to reduce spending on services by nearly £200m by the end of 2019/20. The figures were released in a report to the Council’s Cabinet earlier this week, alongside the Conservative-administration’s decision to hire consultants, at an undisclosed sum, to assist with the County Council’s “programme management and change capacity” project.
Cllr Hazel Watson, Leader of Surrey County Council Liberal Democrats. said:
“I am deeply concerned about the adverse impact on vital council services that would result from a spending reduction of almost £200m over the next two years. Surrey residents rely on the County Council for well-maintained roads, recycling centres, libraries, children’s centres and youth services. These services are already underfunded and further cuts and spending reductions are on the way.
“The Conservative-administration failed to act upon the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) report “Financial Resilience Review – Surrey County Council (Dec 2016)”, which it commissioned, stating that the County Council lacked a “credible cost reduction plan” and highlighted the County Council’s “rapidly declining reserves”. The County Council’s belated realisation that it is facing a financial crisis means that even more drastic cuts are being proposed than would have otherwise been necessary, which will reduce essential services for Surrey residents.
“Consultants have been hired for an undisclosed sum by the Conservative-administration to assist with the County Council’s “programme management and change capacity” project. This is a sign of desperation by the Conservative-administration to help them solve the County Council’s severe financial problems but it remains to be seen whether this will be value for money.
“The Leader of the Council blames poor financial settlements from the government for the financial position of his administration, yet every Conservative MP in Surrey voted for the most recent settlement. Furthermore, the administration has wasted money on maintaining dozens of empty county council-owned buildings across the county, as well as spending hundreds of millions on investing in commercial properties outside of Surrey – money which could have been used to resurface Surrey’s crumbling roads and footways. Investing in road resurfacing would save money on expensive pot hole repairs and claims by residents for damaged vehicles.
“The County Council wasted over £1m on its deeply unpopular free “Surrey Matters” magazine over a number of years and still spends £2m a year on “communications”. It has failed to use new digital technology to transform services to improve efficiency, and instead finds itself raiding ever-dwindling reserves each year in order to balance the budget.
“I am calling for the Conservative-administration to protect services for Surrey residents by using, selling or renting its empty buildings, stopping spending millions of pounds on commercial properties outside Surrey and by improving the efficency of the Council through the use of IT and new digital technology.”
hazel dorking 2
A copy of the CIPFA report can be found here:
The County Council’s latest budget report can be found here:

Drug and alcohol detox plans must change, say Surrey Lib Dems

Liberal Democrat county councillors in Surrey have expressed concern that proposed changes to the arrangements for drug and alcohol detoxification will make it more difficult for those trying to beat addiction.

Surrey County Council is currently consulting on proposals that include the closure of the in-patient facility at Windmill House in Chertsey, leaving only one in-patient bed for the whole of the county – which will be located outside of Surrey. Other patients will be required to attend day centres in either Guildford or Redhill, and will have to return to their homes in the evenings and at weekends in a programme called “ambulatory detoxification.”

The consultation, which ends on 20th May 2018, follows a reduction in the Public Health budget for adult substance misuse treatment services of 24% from April 2018, following cuts approved by Conservative councillors at the Budget meeting in February.

Cllr Angela Goodwin, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Health & Social Care, said today:

“These cuts will directly impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our community. It is simply incredible to think that a county the size of Surrey will be left with only one in-patient bed to cover a population of 1.1 million – and it won’t even be in Surrey! We urge all those affected to respond to the current public consultation to make clear that these proposals are not acceptable”.

Cllr Chris Botten, Liberal Democrat county councillor for Caterham Hill, added:

“Our concern is that patients who have made the huge decision to submit themselves to a detox programme need to be away from the locations and situations which they associate with their drinking or drug use and that is why in-patient detox beds are so important. We feel that the clinical outcomes will be poorer and patients will find their lives have got even harder. That’s why all service users and patients should make their voices heard as part of the consultation to make sure that Surrey County Council listens and then changes these plans”.


A copy of the consultation can be found here:


The future of Green Oak School

Tonight, I attended the “consultation” meeting about the future of Green Oak School.

Wikipedia describes “Public Consultation” as, “a regulatory process by which the public’s input on matters affecting them is sought. Its main goals are in improving the efficiency, transparency and public involvement”. Michael Goodridge, the Chair of Governors from 2011-2015, asked a pertinent question on this point, “Is this a true consultation?”

His question wasn’t answered.

It was standing room only. Parents and teachers and members of the community asked questions of the SCC officers and the Diocesan representative. I think it would be fair to say that people did not think their questions were answered. But then these Officers were just doing their job while the decision makers, Council Leader, David Hodge, and the Bishop and the Regional Schools Commissioner must have had something better to do, because they were absent.

My question was, “This room is packed full of people who care about their children, this school and this community. But, the shame is the absence of those who make the decisions. Were they invited? Would they have come?”

My question was not answered.

Many parents asked the officers to name the alternative schools for their children.

Their question was not answered.

Teachers asked why SCC has told prospective parents who do choose Green Oak to go elsewhere.

Their question was not answered.

The County Council is not like the old Education Authority which ran most of the schools and took the strategic decisions.  The Regional Education Commissioner has mandated that the school must be part of a Multi Academy Trust, or it must close.  The County Council is barred by legislation from operating a Multi Academy Trust. So, the Council has no option but to initiate a closure process, sorry, I mean “consultation”.

The Government and the Regional Schools Commissioner have created a perfect storm for the Diocese and the County and Green Oak school to navigate.

I don’t suppose many of you have heard of Dominic Herrington – the Regional Schools commissioner for South East England and South London. He is unelected. He is responsible for making decisions about academies and free schools in Bexley, Brighton and Hove, Bromley, Croydon, East Sussex, Greenwich, Hampshire , Isle of Wight, Kent, Kingston upon Thames, Lambeth, Lewisham, Medway, Merton, Portsmouth, Richmond upon Thames, Southampton, Southwark, Surrey, Sutton, Wandsworth and West Sussex.

Perhaps he is just too busy to visit Green Oak and see the school for himself.

What do you do if you are caught in a perfect storm? You try any and every means of rescue and this is what we all must do.

Fill in an objection to the proposed closure of the school at:


Lib Dems raise concerns over future of Children’s Centres in Surrey

Liberal Democrat county councillors have raised concern over the future of Children’s Centres in Surrey. Currently there are 58 centres across the county, providing services such as childcare, play and learning sessions, parenting courses, employment support and information and guidance for low-income families. Surrey County Council is currently consulting on a new model for delivering its “Early Help” services, with the aim of saving at least £9.7m.

Cllr Chris Botten, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Children & Education, said:

“Our Children’s Centres do so much for families and children which is not well publicised, and Surrey should be proud of them. They provide essential guidance and support for families with challenges and make a real difference to their lives. I will be doing all I can to ensure that we can save as much of the skill and commitment of the staff and ensure that they continue to make a difference in the future.”

Cllr Stephen Cooksey, Liberal Democrat county councillor Dorking South & the Holmwoods, added:

“My local Children’s Centre in Goodwyns plays a vital role in providing services to an area of great need within Surrey. It supports local families in a variety of ways and is a vital resource which should be protected. However the proposals currently being discussed could mean a loss of at least 40% of its funding. The County Council needs to reassure local service users, and service providers, that this is a genuine consultation as to how it can better serve the needs of local families at a time when spending is tight, rather than just an academic exercise to justify painful cuts”.


The report on Children’s Centres and Early Help discussed at Cabinet on Tuesday 27th February 2018, can be found here: