1. 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 10 March 2021).
2. Cabinet Member Briefings on their portfolios.
These will be circulated by email to all Members prior to the County Council meeting, together with the Members’ questions and responses.
There will be an opportunity for Members to ask questions.
Notice of twenty questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in the supplementary agenda on 15 March 2021.
A number of supplementary questions were asked and a summary of the main points is set out below:
(Q3) Mr Paul Deach asked for further detail on the exact breakdown of spend of the additional £739,000 that was not finalised at the time of writing the response.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Resources and Corporate Support explained that the Winter Support Grant totalled £2.1 million had to be spent by 31 March, however officers had engaged with the Department for Work and Pensions who confirmed that the money could be used to fund the food vouchers for free school meals for the Easter holidays and the additional £739,000 funding received in March had an extended deadline of 16 April. The Council was looking to use that additional money to provide extra vouchers equating to an additional £20 above the original £30 for children entitled to free school meals during the Easter holidays which could be used either for breakfast, a hot meal or it could be held over for a few weeks into May. The Council was also looking at a £50 voucher for Care Leavers to support them over Easter. The deadline for finalising the spend was today and would be discussed at March’s Cabinet meeting.
The Cabinet Member for All Age Learning provided reassurance that the Council was looking further ahead than the Easter holidays, noting the Holiday Activities and Food programme in 2021 in which the Council reported back to the Department of Education enabling it to work with Active Surrey as a provider for activity packs for primary age children who were eligible for free school meals. There was also a programme website including physical activity and arts and craft resources as well as two free healthy lifestyle parenting workshops about practical advice and tips on nutrition. There were pilot cohorts mapped to the areas of deprivation for both primary and secondary ages and it was estimated that the Council would be offering in excess of five hundred places to those in receipt of free school meals throughout Easter. Applications were open for the summer programme and so the Council continued to deliver for its most vulnerable residents.
(Q4) Ms Ayesha Azadthanked the Leader of the Council for his commitment to eradicating inequality from across the county.
In response, the Leader of the Council provided the latest figures on the gender pay gap which in 2019 was 16.8% and had dropped to 12.75% as at March 2020, so noted good progress on that but that there was more work to be done.
(Q8) Dr Peter Szanto had no supplementary question.
Dr Zully Grant-Duff asked whether the Leader of the Council agreed that digital inclusion was key to access to health provision, education, and employment opportunities and whether he would confirm his commitment to developing a digital infrastructure strategy to support the Council’s ambition that no one would be left behind and Surrey would be prosperous for all.
In response, the Leader of the Council gave that commitment and confirmation noting that the matter was in the remit of the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Infrastructure. That in terms of digital inclusion, he noted that 200,000 of Surrey’s approximately 1.2 million residents were digitally excluded so a digital inclusion plan was vital, as the Council must ensure that it could effectively communicate with its residents.
Mrs Morley left the meeting at 10.45 am
Mrs Mountain rejoined the meeting at 10.46 am
(Q9) Mr John O'Reilly noted that by 2025 the Council was planning for a 46% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, he asked whether the Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change agreed that in order to achieve that reduction, bold and exciting initiatives were required to reach the Council’s ultimate goal of zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
Mr Jonathan Essex highlighted the challenge of the Council needing to invest over £13 billion by 2030 as well as the challenge of meeting the 2025 target, he asked what the Council would do to ensure that the Government provided Surrey with the leverage to bring forward that money both from the public and the private sector.
The Cabinet Member for Highways noted that yesterday the Council was awarded £660,000 for rural mobility funding and that would be used for a planned pilot project in Mole Valley for on-demand rural transport improvements which would revolutionise connectivity across the county, including electric vehicle provision through small minibuses and would be rolled out further if successful.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change noted that the Surrey Climate Change Delivery Plan would go to June’s Cabinet meeting where plans would be finalised.
She stated that more Government funding was needed, noting that the Council received £6 million for Green Jump Surrey with a further £3 million received, there was some funding coming through for schools concerning the decarbonisation of their buildings. Officers were working continually to deliver more funding from Government to help the Council deliver its projects going forward.
(Q12) Mrs Penny Rivers asked when the matter would be corrected regarding on-call firefighters who worked between 1 July 2000 and 5 April 2006 who were eligible for, but who had not been included in the Local Government Association Firefighters Pension Scheme Special Members of the 2006 Scheme by the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).
In response, the Cabinet Member for Community Protection noted that following the discovery that an options exercise for retained firefighters to join the Modified Scheme (2006) had not taken place, an internal audit was undertaken. As a result, two hundred and one cases were identified and ninety-eight forms were returned, with twenty-six registering interest and two declining and there had been further subsequent enquiries. SFRS was awaiting external guidance and she was considering arranging a second options exercise.
(Q13) Mr Robert Evans noted that the response provided regarding the ratio of firefighters to Surrey’s population compared to other fire and rescue services was evasive. He sought clarification as to why his invitation to the SFRS Working Group had been withdrawn and who had made that decision.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Community Protection noted that the membership of the Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee’s SFRS Working Group on the ‘Making Surrey Safer Plan’ was the responsibility of the Chairman of that Select Committee and Working Group.
Regarding the ratio of firefighters, the Cabinet Member for Community Protection explained that it was important to understand that SFRS’ response model was based exclusively on Surrey’s needs, which determined the number of firefighters needed to man appliances and the ways of working; there was no value in comparing the figures to other fire and rescue services. She noted that SFRS’ Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) was tailored to Surrey and over the past ten years new technology had been introduced and information was shared with Members on a regular basis regarding changes, transformation successes including the dynamic cover tool, degradation procedures and the joint fire control in which East Sussex was due to join soon, and that SFRS was ahead in many areas nationally. She noted the upcoming Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services' (HMICFRS) inspection and thanked the Member for his continued interest in SFRS.
(Q14) Mr Stephen Cooksey noted that residents in his division were keen to know why the Council spent £246,000 on a PWC report that the Leader of the Council was not prepared to share with residents. He asked the Leader of the Council to comment on his statement made about not receiving a formal request to disclose the report, as the Chairman of the Surrey Leaders' Group - Leader of Runnymede Borough Council - had asked the Leader of the Council to provide that report and he had declined to accept that request.
In response, the Leader of the Council explained that he had spoken with the Chairman of the Surrey Leaders’ Group who noted that the matter would be raised at a Group meeting. He explained that he had never received a formal letter requesting the disclosure of the PWC report and had asked the Member to forward that. He noted that the PWC report was prepared for the Council’s internal use to assist with the preparation of a business plan and information from that was fed into the Council’s transformation work. He noted that the point was out of date, highlighting the current work on the Community Impact Assessment (CIA) which provided a good understanding of Surrey’s communities and informed the work on empowering communities. He noted that Surrey’s District and Borough Councils had spent in excess of £300,000 commissioning a report by KPMG which made various proposals on ways to improve efficiency and collaboration.
(Q15) Mr Jonathan Essex asked the Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change to confirm whether as noted in the written response, that the development proposals for the site would take into consideration local planning policy and guidance. Regarding February’s Cabinet report on the Woodhatch Masterplan, he asked whether it would be in line with Reigate and Banstead Borough Council’s (RBBC) commitment that affordable housing should be at ‘social’ rent and in line with the RBBC Local Plan which did not promote building on urban open land.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change said that the Council would adhere to all of the current plans with RBBC and as twin-hatted Members any RBBC planning applications in respect of the Council would be scrutinised.
(Q17) Mr Robert Evans noted that he was sure that all Members were experiencing additional queries from residents regarding potholes and damaged roads due to the recent rain and snow. Referring to the written response in which the Government was not giving any indication of additional money to address the situation, he queried that as Surrey had eleven Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs), whether the Cabinet Member for Highways or the Council had or would engage with the Government to provide such additional funding to repair the roads.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Highways explained that the Council had been engaging with Surrey’s eleven MPs and with the Department for Transport about a fairer funding formula on roads as the current one did not take into account usage and included a set payment per structure irrelevant of its size. The response back was in line with the Government's belief that there would be no changes to the current formula as a majority of local councils were supportive of it. Locally however, the Council’s increased funding was producing good results, for example highways complaints had decreased considerably as had the number of reports from residents. The Council was also trialling Artificial Intelligence cameras which could identify potholes proactively, noting the continued innovation on Surrey’s highways.
(Q18) Mr Stephen Cooksey noted that the written response indicated that the Leader of the Council was struggling to find any justification for his misrepresentation of the conclusions of the KPMG report. He asked the Leader of the Council whether he believed that it was helpful to the Council’s relationship with Surrey’s District and Borough Councils to promote implications that might suit his political agenda but were not factual.
In response, the Leader of the Council explained that Surrey’s District and Borough Councils commissioned the KPMG report to counter the Council's position in relation to potential unitary structure which was pursued with the encouragement of the Government. He added that the Council would pursue its transformation agenda and would focus on delivering better quality services to its residents that it was responsible for and suggested that Surrey’s District and Borough Councils should do the same.
(Q19) Mr Jonathan Essex asked that in addition to the work done by the teams across the Council in ensuring value for money, whether there was a plan to include value for money in the work carried out by internal and external auditors going forward. He noted the importance of using lessons learnt from current and recent contracts to make sure that value for money was maximised before finalising contracts.
In response, the Leader of the Council recognised that the contracts were significant and needed to be well scrutinised both during the procurement process and subsequently. He noted that he was happy if the audit function could add to that as it was vital to get contracts right, to get value for money and to ensure that the Council had independent evidence to substantiate that. He added that robust contract management was equally important, and the Council was focussing on that stringent process to ensure that contracts were well procured and managed.
(Q20) Mr Jonathan Essex referred to the staff travel survey noting that it was the case that many of those staff who would be travelling to work post Covid-19 would be travelling further and longer to Woodhatch Place. He asked whether some of the savings in officer’s travel expenses over the last year could be used to incentivise staff to choose public transport over private transport. He was concerned that in the absence of that financial incentive the proposed new local bus service may benefit the residents of Redhill and Reigate, but not those travelling from further away.
In response, the Leader of the Council agreed that it was vital to increase the uptake of public transport by both residents and staff. He noted the need to invest in good quality public transport, starting with the £50 million for low emission buses and the Government’s £3 billion in funding for a new bus strategy, which the Council could bid for next year. He reiterated the point made by the Cabinet Member for Highways on the planned pilot project in Mole Valley for on-demand rural transport improvements. He emphasised that it was vital to increase the use of public transport through measures including incentives and investing in the public transport network across the county.
Cabinet Member Briefings:
These were also published in the supplementary agenda on 15 March 2021.
Members made the following comments:
Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change: on the Eco Park, a Member noted that the legal proceedings were to be expected when the Council removed the £42 million asset of the Eco Park from its accounts. The Member asked for assurance that the legal proceedings with Suez would not impact the Council’s Waste Infrastructure Grants that it received from the Government as it was still expecting £63 million from that.
In response, the Cabinet Member noted that owing to legal privilege a full reply could not be given.
Cabinet Member for Communities: on libraries, a Member noted the positive comments on the situation and changes during lockdown. The Member made reference to the challenging budget situation in relation to re-establishing the revenue lost in cultural services and asked the Cabinet Member to provide reassurance that his plans to realise those savings would not include the closure of any community libraries.
In response, the Cabinet Member said that as previously stated, he confirmed that the fifty-two current library services would remain, the buildings and positions may change, but every area with a current library service would continue to have one. The Council was doing its best to ensure that the provision was fit for purpose and flexible for future use whilst working within financial constraints. He noted that he was confident in the progress towards transforming library services into something that Surrey residents would be proud of.