The Leader of the Council or the appropriate Member of the Cabinet or the Chairman of a Committee to answer any questions on any matter relating to the powers and duties of the County Council, or which affects the county.
(Note: Notice of questions in respect of the above item on the agenda must be given in writing, preferably by e-mail, to Democratic Services by 12 noon on Wednesday 3 February 2021).
Notice of twelve questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in a supplementary agenda on 8 February 2021.
A number of supplementary questions were asked and a summary of the main points is set out below:
(Q1) Mrs Hazel Watson had no supplementary question.
Mr Stephen Cooksey asked whether the Leader of the Council had been sent the same KPMG report that the Leaders of Surrey’s borough and district councils had authorised and if he had could he point to the sections of the report that reflected the Leader’s response where he noted that it “recognised that the current system of local government was not sustainable” and “proposed the creation of unitary councils in Surrey”; as he and others had checked the report and found no such text. He explained that the report was sent to the Leader as a courtesy and regarded the Leader’s misrepresentation of its content discourteous.
In response, the Leader of the Council noted that the report had been sent from the Surrey Chief Executives who have had considerable discussions around it. He noted that all councils across the country had financial challenges noting twelve that had declared financial difficulties and the report concentrated on the ways in which Surrey’s borough and district councils could share back office resources and find greater savings as well as looking at the creation of two or three unitary authorities in Surrey. He noted that he was happy to have a more detailed conversation with the Member.
(Q2)Mr Robert Evans noted that the Cabinet Member for Community Protection had consistently told Council that all was well in Surrey and questioned whether she had listened to the recent parliamentary debate and was surprised to learn that there were twenty-two buildings in Surrey that had been identified as dangerous with unsafe cladding, and asked whether she was aware that the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s (SFRS) Chief Fire Officer had told BBC Surrey that there were no such buildings.
He asked whether the Cabinet Member would advise Council on how many and what percentage of buildings in Surrey had been properly inspected and how many were outstanding, had she or SFRS considered the dangers of wooden balconies on properties and their potential risks posed in a fire, what assurances could she give residents about their safety especially those who were living in buildings with Waking Watches.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Community Protection explained that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Building Research Establishment notify Fire and Rescue Services of changes in risk as new information became available. SFRS was ahead nationally in reviewing buildings of less than eighteen metres in height, it had proactively adopted the recommendations of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety (Hackitt Review) post-Grenfell, maintaining work relating to buildings with cladding and as a result Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) noted SFRS’ continued engagement with those responsible for fire safety in its recent Covid-19 inspection.
The Cabinet Member for Community Protection further explained that in quarter two of 2021, SFRS was in the top quartile nationally for outcomes relating to protection in its role as an enforcing authority, which was an iterative process in relation to cladding made from aluminium composite material, high pressure laminate and expanded polystyrene systems. In response to the question on wooden balconies, such matters were being looked at as well as any other risks identified in an advisory note by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Building Research Establishment. She emphasised that SFRS had been accurately providing information consistently, noting the constantly changing environment in which it reacted to risks as they were identified particularly in relation to the underregulated building environment which in response to recent tragic incidents was being thoroughly scrutinised and such risks were managed those accordingly. She commented that HMICFRS had commented that the work of SFRS’ recent building inspections was timely and effective, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. She implored the Member to attend the Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee to refer his concerns which could be more fully discussed as well as gaining a more detailed insight into the work of SFRS.
(Q3) Mr Nick Darby asked whether the Cabinet Member for Highways was aware that the latest proposal in relation to congestion charges into London appeared to be a £5.50 boundary charge as opposed to the current proposal by the Mayor of London of a £3.50 boundary charge. He noted the reasonable suggestion by the police that they should be reimbursed that charge and asked whether the Cabinet Member could comment on the worrying increased proposed charge.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Highways noted that in recent news reports the Secretary of State for Transport quashed any ideas of a further congestion charge expansion. However he informed the Member that he recognised that the matter was a distress to residents particularly during the pandemic and that he was writing to both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Mayor of London to clarify their positions going forward on any future changes.
(Q4) Wyatt Ramsdale noted that he looked forward to seeing the thirty-one programmes in action within the transformation change portfolio in 2021/22 especially on those concerning climate change. He asked whether the Cabinet Member for Resources and Corporate Support would join him in thanking all those involved in finding those £250 million of year-on-year efficiencies over the last three years, highlighting the outgoing Cabinet Member for Resources and the current Executive Director of Resources and his team.
(Q5) Clare Curran asked the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Public Health and Domestic Abuse whether Members could be confident that the additional investment in mental health and ASC services was going to give sufficient capacity in those two areas to meet the additional demand that was anticipated to arise from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mrs Bernie Muir asked the Cabinet Member whether the intention was to roll out the Enabling You With Technology pilot across ASC and asked what she anticipated the major benefits to be.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Public Health and Domestic Abuse reiterated the Leader’s commitment to provide the best services in the most efficient way. In order to continue to fund good services in ASC, ongoing assessments were vital to make sure that those services could be provided which met residents’ needs for care and support in a way that enabled them to live a full and independent life. She highlighted that ASC was providing preventative services through early intervention to support people ensuring where possible that their needs do not grow, unpaid carers and their support needs were also assessed including the provision of reliable and good quality respite care; and she highlighted the development of the draft Surrey Carers Strategy 2021-24, undertaken by the Deputy Cabinet Member for Health. She noted that ASC also looked at its internal staffing group to ensure their proper remuneration as well as the improved conditions of employment for care workers through training, qualifications and opportunities for career development – such measures would stabilise the workforce and encourage its growth. She noted that ASC worked closely with care providers in order to support them where possible to meet their costs, invest in their assets and expand their offer which in turn would ensure the stability of the care market. She commented that improved collaborative working between health and social care professionals through various initiatives, enabled residents to hold and share their own medical and social records across the system. She noted the importance of housing in supporting health, wellbeing and independence. Through consistently undertaking the ongoing assessments noted and reviewing those, the Cabinet Member emphasised that ASC and the Council could supply a good service against the increasing pressures of demand.
The Cabinet Member explained that the Enabling You With Technology pilot launched on 25 January 2021 in Mole Valley was going well. Its objectives were to expedite patient discharge from hospital, to empower residents to live independently and well in their own homes for longer using our technological solutions, to relieve pressure on stretched hospital, locality and reablement teams; and to inform residents’ ongoing support needs and plans. She explained that the aim was to roll out the pilot across Adult Social Care and the county and was looking to start a small innovation group that would pick up on key measures, areas to investigate and outcomes so that the further roll out take on board improvements.
(Q7) Ken Gulati noted that one worrying aspect in relation to children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) was the extent of their travel within Surrey to school. He asked whether the Cabinet Member for All-Age Learning could indicate whether the expansion of four hundred additional specialist places would include new establishments or whether it was primarily an expansion of existing ones.
In response, the Cabinet Member for All-Age Learning explained that there was a mix of that provision, noting that there was a specification of needs in the different sectors across SEND such as communication and interaction needs or speech and language needs. She explained that out of the 1600 additional specialist places, 400 had been brought forward and that in relation to the last sector of funding for those places across twenty different settings with £500,000 in funding for each, expressions of interest had been invited from the county’s education settings. The Education Place Planning team were working with those settings to establish the use of the buildings already at those settings so it was a repurposing of the capital investment.
Regarding reducing travel to school the Cabinet Member noted the importance of educating children close to their communities so that they were an integral part of them, investment in the Council’s own place planning significantly reduced the cost per pupil from an independent setting for example which tended to be more expensive and did not necessarily deliver a better outcome for that child or young person.
(Q9) Mr Jonathan Essex asked whether the Cabinet Member for Resources and Corporate Support would agree with him that the Government needed to finally provide a sustainable funding solution and plan for social care instead of repeatedlyrelying on councils adding a social care levy on top of the basic council tax level. He asked whether she would write on behalf of the Council to request that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care would create such a social care plan.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Resources and Corporate Support noted that she was lobbying Government and hoped for a long-term solution to ASC funding, adding that she expected to see such an update from Government by the end of the year. She responded that she was happy to take the Member’s suggestion away and would work with officers and ASC to write to the Government.
(Q10) Mr Robert Evans commented that the Leader of the Council in his response noted that some aspects of Fairtrade in Surrey were continuing without required investment and later noted where it represented value for money to Surrey taxpayers. He asked whether the Leader would accept the spirit of Fairtrade in that sometimes a small additional expense was necessary to be fair to and to support some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. He welcomed the points on Woodhatch Place, Starbucks, Selecta and other developments and whether the Leader would consider the Council’s support for the upcoming Fairtrade Fortnight 2021 beginning on 22February - at least by promoting it amongst employees and publicising it across the county via social media and the Council website.
Mr Jonathan Essex noted that in light of the Council having relocated its civic heart to Woodhatch Place in Reigate and Reigate having been awarded Fairtrade Town Status in October 2020; he asked the Leader whether the Council would commit to an employee representative playing an active role in the Reigate Fairtrade Steering Group.
In response, the Leader of the Council emphasised that the Council was supporting Fairtrade, he apologised that there had not been an annual update as promised in 2017 on the Council’s status as a Fairtrade council. He noted that he was not aware that Surrey had lost its Fairtrade county status and would take away the suggestions noted above with officers.
(Q12) Mr Robert Evans noted that in her response the Cabinet Member for All-Age Learning recognised that good quality and sustained employment was vital for a good standard of living, noting the active planning and delivery of training to prepare the future Surrey workforce. He asked what measures had been made for the provision of computers and laptops for remote learning for the most vulnerable in the county. He queried where in Spelthorne and Surrey Heath might face to face courses take place as both Spelthorne College and Brooklands College - Ashford Campus had gone.
In response, the Cabinet Member for All-Age Learning noted that through the widened scope of the community hubs work and the co-design work around libraries provision, which would be drawn together along with the economic needs of communities across the different settings. She explained that the intention was to address some of the skills gaps where relevant through face to face learning and particularly concerning vocational qualifications. Regarding laptop provision to the most vulnerable in schools, that had been addressed throughout the lockdown, the Department for Education had provided direct access to those. The Council continued to provide free courses for digital skills through its partners such as the Henrietta Parker Trust. She noted that she was happy to look into the specifics around that as the co-design work was completed, noting that it was in tandem with community planning and the community hubs work as well as the Surrey Employment and Skills Board.