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 12 January 2022).
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 sixteen questions had been received.
The questions and replies were published in the supplementary agenda on 17 January 2022 (Items 2 and 4). A number of supplementary questions were asked and a summary of the main points is set out below.
(Q1) Robert Evans noted that currently in Surrey there were 451 full time equivalent (FTE) firefighters and asked whether the Cabinet Member for Community Protection was aware that in 2011 there were 641 FTE firefighters and every year since then the number of FTE firefighters has decreased annually. During that ten-year period Surrey’s population has increased and roads have got busier, he asked how residents can feel safe when there has been a 30% in firefighters and crewing levels on fire engines have been cut from five to four.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Community Protection restated that Fire and Rescue Services have been transformed through an emphasis on prevention, protection and changing work practices leading to a reduction in the number of fires by 45% nationally and 30% in Surrey. He was happy to respond to the Member in writing on any specific points.
(Q2) John O’Reilly welcomed the £1 million generated by the scheme.
He asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure for clarification on whether prior to the new Lane Rental Scheme the Council was not getting any money apart from covering its costs from the former scheme.
He further asked the Cabinet Member what sort of projects would be funded using the surplus generated from the Lane Rental Scheme.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure confirmed that the permit scheme did not generate a surplus as it was cost neutral, he was pleased that the surplus money from the Lane Rental charges could be used for anything that reduced congestion on the network such as ducting by utility companies as suggested by the Department for Transport (DfT). He noted that whilst he was in office Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP changed the criteria so that money generated from the scheme could be used to repair utility pothole defects, to improve lighting and signalling to reduce congestion. Those options were being considered and the Council would be working with the utility operators.
(Q3) Jonathan Hulley was pleased to hear the steps taken by the Council to promote the carbon literacy agenda and reaching out to the Carbon Literacy Trust. He asked the Cabinet Member for Environment about what steps the Council has taken to promote the carbon literacy agenda amongst community groups and Residents’ Associations, or in partnership with others.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment corrected her written answer noting that Members currently did not have access to the Carbon Literacy training on Olive so the Climate Change team was seeking to address that as the training would aid Members in their scrutiny and when talking to residents. She noted that officers have been speaking to key environment and community groups about how they can get better training. She would liaise with Members once they have access to the training.
(Q4) Trefor Hogg asked whether the Cabinet Member for Communities could confirm that staff in community hubs would be given the appropriate training so that they can guide residents and local businesses as they seek to harness renewable energy and reduce their carbon emissions, as well as providing access to information resources.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Communities praised the work of Surrey’s library staff who provided a wide range of services, noting that staff would be provided with training in response to the roll out of initiatives such as around mental health as well as guiding people through business information. That having the knowledge to spot when someone needs help was crucial; he provided assurance that library staff are there to help the public and communities.
(Q5) Tim Hall asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure whether there was money included in the upcoming budget for supporting the Planning Enforcement Team and their legal and other costs.
Jonathan Hulley noted that he was pleasedthat the Council sought to expand its Planning Enforcement Team, he highlighted the increase in unlawful waste activity and fly tipping over the past two years and urged the team to tackle that behaviour.
He further asked the Cabinet Member whether he would agree that the Council can and should be doing more to lobby the Government for increased powers similar to those held by the Environment Agency.
Nick Harrison asked whether some of those extra staff resources could be used to address the issues concerning the Chalk Pit site.
Bernie Muir endorsed the suggestions made and looked forward to further progress as the issues raised had implications for Surrey’s residents.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure highlighted that there was a dedicated planning enforcement allocation within the upcoming budget. The increase in the Planning Enforcement Team was positive and the escalation route was being reviewed.
He responded that the Council was lobbying the Government for increased powers similar to those held by the Environment Agency who for example had the power to seize vehicles conducting illegal activity.
He noted the Chalk Pit site and responded that having an increased Planning Enforcement Team and working with Surrey’s partners such as the Borough and District Councils and the Environment Agency, would mean that the dedicated budget would aid the delivery of enforcement.
(Q7) Will Forster noted that despite buying the two assets, the Council in five years had lost nearly £50 million in their value. He asked whether the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste thought that to be value for money.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste highlighted that online and high street retail were on an uneven playing field. That the Council was a long term owner of the two assets: Malvern Retail Park was fully let and provided a positive income, whilst the lease of the former Debenhams site in Winchester would expire on 31 January 2022, the Council was working with Winchester City Council and is looking at an options appraisal including disposal, reletting or redevelopment. She reminded the Member that investments can increase and decrease.
(Q8) Lance Spencer asked whether the Cabinet Member for Environment provide assurance that the responsible officers within public health and the Environment Agency have undertaken an assessment of the treatment works and water plants that supply Surrey residents. The United Kingdom (UK) has some of the worst rivers in Europe in terms of the amount of sewage and chemicals.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment agreed with many of the points raised and emphasised that she was not in a position to assure residents as it did not fall within her remit.
(Q9) Paul Follows asked the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources whether there was a forecast figure for those indirect National Insurance (NI) cost increases.
He further asked the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member whether there were plans to address the annual ongoing revenue cost of the NI increase.
He also asked whether the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member could give an indication of when and whether the Health and Social Care Levy would be a net contributor to the Council’s budget.
In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources would liaise with the Finance Team to provide the Member with the requested forecast figure of the NI indirect costs such as those on suppliers.
She responded that going forward the annual ongoing revenue costs from the NI increase would be funded through the additional Government funding rolled forward into next year and through Council’s proposed Council Tax increase.
She responded that the challenge was the future uncertainty around the Health and Social Care Levy, which was being considered in the Medium Term Financial Strategy and through a responsible approach to budgeting, the Council continues to improve its financial resilience through its reserves position.
(Q10) Jonathan Essex asked the Cabinet Member for Communities for a breakdown of the reasons why sixty-four applications have been rejected, seeking clarification of what ineligibility or not making a positive change to people’s lives meant.
John O’Reilly noted that at the upcoming March meeting of the Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee the principal item would be on Your Fund Surrey since its inception and he asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that any Member who wishes to have an input to that meeting could contact him.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Communitiesexplained that eligibility was dependent on a minimum application of £10,000, projects must demonstrate community support and furthermore a project fails to be eligible if the applicant does not tick a required box reflecting whether the project supports the Council’s Community Vision for Surrey in 2030. He would liaise with officers on providing a spreadsheet to the Member concerning those sixty-four rejected applications. He explained that no application was rejected without a thorough examination, the team had advised applicants and helped applicants look for funding elsewhere.
He further responded that the information requested would be available at the March meeting of the Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee.
(Q11) Robert Evans asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructurewhether he wished for Surrey to have the same powers as London concerning obstructions on pavements such as parking. He noted that reporting obstructions was not always the solution as the needs of those requiring the pavement were often immediate.
He further asked the Cabinet Member whether he agreed that the culture of vehicle parkers needed to change, asking whether he would agree to a publicity campaign working with the Borough and District Councils to highlight the issue.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure agreed that greater powers around inappropriate parking on pavements were needed as such obstructions were a danger to pedestrians, cyclists and damaged the pavement. The Council had responded to the Government consultation and was awaiting the outcome; the Council did not support a blanket ban of pavement parking and would need to consider the areas where to apply a pavement parking ban. That moving the power away from the police to councils to fine pavement parking obstructions was vital to tackle the issue proactively.
He further responded that working with the Borough and District Councils on enforcement as well as Surrey Police was key and he would liaise with his team about the publicity campaign and the Member in due course.
(Q12) Will Forster recognised that whilst 90% of children on the Child Protection Plan were up to date with their visits, the remaining 10% not was a concern and he asked the Cabinet Member for Children and Families how that compared with similar councils such as Hertfordshire County Council.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Children and Families noted that she would liaise with the service on whether they held such comparative information from statistical neighbours and would follow up with the Member in due course.
(Q13) Jonathan Essex noted that he would take up the offer made by the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure to review the details of the Integrated Transport Scheme (ITS) lists - both budgeted and not budgeted across Surrey.
He asked the Cabinet Member whether he agreed that in line with the Council’s new sustainable transport strategy that it was important to share information and have public debates with residents on sustainable transport.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure highlighted that the ITS lists were publicly available and were discussed at each of the Council’s Local and Joint Committees. He noted that the lists could be collated into a single document, he would liaise with the team to respond to the Member.
He further responded that information was available publicly around transport sustainability and all new schemes in the county. He added that once approved the Council would comply with the measures set out in the Local Transport Plan 4 (LTP4)and the Surrey Street Design Guide,as well as national guidance on cycleway and footway improvements.
(Q16) Will Forster asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure whether the written response implied that no progress had been made and the Council would not implement any School Streets pilots until the Government gave Surrey further powers.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure explained that the Council did intend to introduce School Streets pilots and it was applying for two sites and powers to enforce moving traffic offences. Once those sites had been approved by the DfT, authorities could choose future sites and the Council would be accelerating School Streets and would use greater enforcement powers once available in other areas such as HGV and yellow box enforcement.
Cabinet Member Briefings: these were also published in the supplementary agenda on 17 January 2022 (Items 2 and 4).
There were no questions asked by Members.