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 6 October 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 thirty-three questions had been received.
The questions and replies were published in the supplementary agenda on 11 October 2021. A number of supplementary questions were asked and a summary of the main points is set out below.
(Q1) Jonathan Hulley noted that Your Fund Surrey (YFS) was an exciting initiative aimed at empowering towns and communities across Surrey and was a key plank of the county’s levelling up agenda. He asked the Cabinet Member for Communities if the YFS Advisory Panel had met and if so whether any funding had been awarded.
Mark Sugden welcomed the award given to the Claygate Recreation Ground Trust andasked the Cabinet Member for Communities to convey his thanks to theYFS team in recognition of the work done on assessing the applications.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Communities was pleased to announce that the YFS Advisory Panel had met and the two applications reviewed were successful: Weybridge Men’s Shed was granted £30,000 and Claygate Recreation Ground Trust was granted £35,000. He recognised the hard work done by the YFS team over the past year and thanked applicants for their patience, YFS was a ground-breaking initiative and the approval process would gain momentum.
(Q2) Nick Darby noted that officers were working with Selecta UK to move towards zero waste and asked what the timescale was for that move.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Property noted that she did not know what the timescale was for that move and noted that there was little waste as the majority of the sandwiches stocked at Woodhatch Place would be purchased by lunchtime.
(Q3) Will Forsterasked how the Leader envisaged that the Council would make a decision on a County Deal such as whether it should be scrutinised by the relevant select committee and signed off at a Council meeting, and asked whether there should be a public consultation.
In response, the Leader noted that the Council, along with twenty other county councils, submitted an expression of interest and he did not know whether the Council would be successful as part of the first wave. The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper was expected to be published next month and the relevant select committee would review any proposals, he did not expect there to be a public consultation concerning additional powers to be granted to the Council, the public would however be consulted on any contentious areas.
(Q4) Paul Followsnoted that the National Insurance (NI) liability in Surrey went beyond the £2.4 million to the Council, there was an additional £2 million NI liability to the police and a £1.6 million NI liability for the Boroughs and Districts combined. He sought assurance from the Leader, and the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources that the Council would lobby the Government in keeping their promise that local authorities would not be out of pocket, and asked that they communicate the outcome of the issue to Members and the leaders of the Boroughs and Districts.
In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources noted her detailed response to Q27 concerning the Council’s potential NI liability and she confirmed that the Council was lobbying and engaging with the Government on the impact of the NI liability and how it would be funded.
(Q5) Lance Spencerasked whether the Cabinet Member for Environment would agree that whilst the sums of money committed to address the climate emergency were large, they were insufficient to deliver meaningful change in communities particularly in the 46% reduction of carbon emissions in transport. A budget item for communications and engagement appeared to be missing, he asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that a significant budget was required to foster a significant behavioural change from Members, residents and businesses Surrey to deliver the Greener Futures Programme.
Ayesha Azad arrived at 11.09 am
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment agreed that a significant budget was needed to deliver the Greener Futures Programme. The finances were evolving and would be from a variety of different routes. She had organised a Greener Futures Member Reference Group (MRG) meeting on Thursday to review the Delivery Plan’s finances and there would be a finance plan within the report on the Delivery Plan to Cabinet later in the month.
(Q6) Fiona Whitenoted that it would be helpful if the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health could explain how successful the initiatives set out in the response had been on the recruitment of staff, noting the worryingly high turnover rates in Surrey’s social care workforce. She further asked what was being done to make staying in the sector and with the Council more attractive.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health noted the positive outcomes of the initiatives between the Council and the Surrey Care Association and that she would discuss with the Surrey Care Association what more robust mechanisms can be put in place. She highlighted that the turnover rates in Surrey within Older Peoples Services was 21.3% and for Learning Disabilities was 17.1% were below the national average, recognising the continued pressure within Adult Social Care and Children’s Services, and the continued support needed.
Jonathan Essex asked how the shocking turnover and vacancy rates in Surrey’s social care workforce compared to other councils across the south east and nationally.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health noted that the national figure of 30% regarding staff turnover across the social care sector was provided in her response to Q6, she would look into the rates in other counties as requested and inform Members.
(Q7) Carla Morsonasked the Cabinet Member for Children and Families how for pupils in Surrey, the assessment timeframe of 216 days from referral compared with the performance of comparable authorities.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Children and Families noted that she would research into the comparative figures with other authorities and provide those where possible.
George Potter noted that the explanation given in the written response concerning the assessment timeframe of 216 days from referral was due to the detailed process involved, he noted that his own experience of the assessment timeframe as a child was considerably less than 216 days and was also less for private assessments. He asked the Cabinet Member whether that assessment timeframe was the best the Council could do or whether it had an ambition to reduce the number of days.
Lance Spencer noted his personal experience in getting the support required as the father of child with special needs. He asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that the extended delays in the completion of assessments brought stress on the families, noting that the resident who raised the issue originally still believed that they would have to wait a further two years to get the Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) support completed.
In response to the above supplementary questions, the Cabinet Member for Children and Families noted that the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) services and services for children with additional disabilities were undergoing a transformation programme. Whilst the standard of services provided to some children was not adequate and some problems remained in the system, the Council was committed to improving the services for all children and families in Surrey. The SEND Code of Practice, which was a statutory process of assessment, was adhered to and was a lengthy process.
(Q8) Stephen Cookseynoted that the figures showed that almost one in every three applications received in August and September remained outstanding on 8 October. Of which one quarter were applications for those with Special Educational Needs (SEN), over four hundred families were awaiting a decision almost a month after the start of term and he asked whether the Cabinet Member for Education and Learningwas satisfied that the improvements underway would lead to a significant reduction in the number of families awaiting a decision at the same time next year.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learninghighlighted that the target processing times were included in the written response to the question, the complexity and safeguarding issues as well as late referrals all affected the processing time and she provided assurances on the robust structure in place.
Lance Spencer noted that all three appeals on SEN transport arrangements were upheld by the appeals panel, he asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that those decisions were an unacceptable waste of time and money, and to review the process to ensure that families and children are not put through further trauma.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learningstressed that the appeals process was an important part of the consideration of applications, it was Member-led and followed best practice. The written response demonstrated the rigorous process followed by officers in line with guidance from the Department for Education and government funding - despite the period of turmoil from the Covid-19 pandemic.
(Q9) Hazel Watsonasked whether the Cabinet Member for Environment thought that the Council’s target for tree planting would be met.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment stated that the target would be met, so far almost 250,000 trees had been planted.
Will Forster noted that over 28,000 trees had been planted by the Council since the target was set and he asked the Cabinet Member at what year the 1.2 million target would be reached at the current rate of planting.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment noted that the Council had planted around 27,000 trees, a further 200,000 had been planted in partnership with the Woodlands Trust and Reigate and Banstead Borough Council - she was happy to send over the detailed list. Planting hedges and shrubbery was being considered as it was becoming harder to find space to plant trees.She noted that the target was set for ten years’ time, but it would be positive if it could be met before then, other locations for tree planting were being considered.
Catherine Baart asked the Cabinet Member to provide the net figures as opposed to the gross figures concerning the number of trees planted.
In response, the Cabinet Memberfor Environment explained that the trees being removed were as a result of ash dieback and moth disease. Work was underway to revise the Tree Strategy in order to keep as many trees as possible such as on Surrey’s highways.
(Q10) Robert Evans asked the Cabinet Member for Environment whether she shared his concern over the impact of toxic levels of air pollution in excess of World Health Organisation limits on schools and children in Surrey and whether she would research the comparative data with that given for London.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment noted that she would seek out the comparative data.
Jonathan Essex asked the Cabinet Member whether the Council would assess the impacts and costs of the levels of air pollution on adult social care and dementia.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment recognised the significant issues around air pollution, a list in the written response was provided on the work underway to reduce air pollution in Surrey to ensure a greener and healthier county.
(Q11) Robert King asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure
to update residents through social media channels more effectively on the routes noted in his question.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure would speak to the Council’s Communications team.
(Q12)Jonathan Essex asked whether the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure would agree that the necessary infrastructure should enable a shift towards greater public transport use not an expansion of road capacity, in line with the draft Surrey Local Transport Plan 2022-2032.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure noted that additional road capacity did not equal poorer climate change outcomes. The Government’s Aviation 2050 strategy which set the targets for sustainable travel access to airports, aligned with the Council’s climate change policies and its fourth Local Transport Plan (LTP4) on improving sustainable access to Heathrow Airport via Southern Railway access, and improving the reliability of train services to Gatwick Airport.
Alison Griffiths arrived at 11.32 am
(Q13)Catherine Baart noted that in relationto transparency, she asked the Leader whether a list of the organisations represented on the boards would be provided and whether the reports would be made available in accordance with the Chatham House Rule.
In response, the Leaderexplained that the meetings of the boards were not intended to be held in secret, he envisaged that in the future where appropriate they could be webcast and any decisions made would be scrutinised by the relevant select committee; he would provide a membership list of those boards and key information such as recommendations. He clarified that there would be an Integrated Care Board and an Integrated Care Partnership, not an Inclusive Care Board as noted in the question.
(Q15) Keith Withamwelcomed the positive outcomes of energy efficiency and cost savings from the LED street lights replacement programme and asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure whether there were any other examples of current or future innovation concerning Surrey’s highways.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure highlighted the use of new biofuels which were 50% more efficient on site, the use of electric plant equipment and charge points such as at Brooklands, the installation of smart highways such as on the A22, the average speed camera rollout and the possibility of wind turbines on infrastructure such as street lights.
(Q16) David Lewis asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructurewhether it was correct that the Lane Rental Scheme only applied to traffic sensitive roads which covered 8% of Surrey’s roads and if so what was the criteria for additional roads to become traffic sensitive roads.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure confirmed that the Lane Rental Scheme applied to 8% of Surrey’s highways which was above the Government’s national guideline. He explained that traffic sensitive roads were those most prone to congestion if there was disruption on the network and were roads of a high impact such as A roads. He stated that he was happy to take the Member through the process.
(Q17) Luke Bennettasked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructurewhat the process was for Members and residents to propose or flag areas where the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) schemes would work in their divisions.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure noted that if there were any particular schemes to be included in the LCWIP, there were several workshops held in partnership where Members could provide feedback and he noted that issues should be raised through the relevant Local Committee.
(Q20) Jeremy Webster asked the Cabinet Member for Children and Families when he could see the details of the Surrey forward plan for child poverty.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Children and Familiesconfirmed that an update on the Surrey poverty plan would be provided at the next meeting of the Council.
(Q21) David Harmer noted that in order for the Council to utilise its resources most effectively, it would be helpful to understand what the world might look like in 2030, 2040 and 2050. He asked the Cabinet Member for Environment whether she would agree on setting up a study to produce scenarios, assess progress and adjust policies.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environmentnoted that she would look into the possible study as it was vital to know what areas to invest in.
(Q23) Mark Sugden asked the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources whether the work outlined concluded the Finance Improvement Programme andFinance Academy.
In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources noted that she was sure Members would join her in congratulating the Finance team in winning those awards. Phase one of the Finance Improvement Programme concluded in June 2020 as reported to the Cabinet, following that report phase two was initiated and the Council’s Finance team was committed to continuous improvement, best practice and value money in all levels of the organisation.
(Q26) Jordan Beech asked the Cabinet Member for Adults and Healthwhat was being done in Surrey to encourage the vaccine uptake in the remaining unvaccinated population.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health noted the large volume of work undertaken to encourage the uptake of the vaccine across Surrey, particularly in young people where social media campaigns were a success. Uptake was monitored closely on the Surrey Local Outbreak Engagement Board and she welcomed Members to join a future meeting.
(Q29) Lance Spencerasked whether the Cabinet Member for Environment agreed that the Council had the responsibility to lead, enable and inspire residents to get involved in working out their role in delivering net zero carbon emissions. The consultations were not getting sufficient traction and he asked whether the Cabinet Member would commit to working cross-party to find better ways to communicate the vital messages going forward.
In response, theCabinet Member for Environment agreed with the Member, noting that her upcoming motion - Item 8: Original Motions, 8 (ii) - sought Member support to engage with residents. Whilst more work needed to be done with engaging with residents, she commended the engagement work by officers and would work cross-party with Members to consult with residents.
(Q31) Robert King welcomed the words on heavy goods vehicle (HGV) signage on the A320 but noted disappointment that the Council was not doing more. He asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure to relook at the business case concerning any improvements to the level crossing on the B388.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure reiterated that the level crossings were managed and operated by Network Rail, he would have another discussion with them. Any funding offered - to be matched by Network Rail - would need to fit into Network Rail’s timescale for improvement works.
(Q32) Jonathan Essex asked the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health whether there were any plans to scrutinise the passage of the Health and Care Bill through Parliament, in light of Surrey Heartlands to be a pilot for the changes and so it would be useful to understand what had worked well or not.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health noted that research had been undertaken on the Bill and that the scrutiny of the proposed changes sat with the Health and Wellbeing Board - if required she was happy to provide any further information.
(Q33) Robert King asked the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning for assurance that she would keep him and the Member for Addlestone updated on the matter of school transport for SEN children.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learningconfirmed that she would keep both Members updated and welcomed the cross-party support provided by both Members.
Cabinet Member Briefings: these were also published in the supplementary agenda on 11 October 2021.
Liz Bowes arrived at 11.50 am
Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure: on buses, in light of the rumours that the Bus Recovery Grant (BRG) was facing serious cuts, asked whether the Cabinet Member had received information on the matter and whether he could update Members.
In response, the Cabinet Member explained that the Government, in its letter to Surrey, outlined a two thirds reduction in the BRG funding for local authorities. Surrey’s BRG funding was £574,000 up to April 2022, the BRG funding was used to support the bus industry with figures averaging 65% compared to 2019 figures pre-pandemic. He had written to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Transport outlining the serious concerns resulting from the reduction with no prior consultation. The reduction affected all local authorities and he would share the response from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State.
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources: noted that the full year £19.5 million deficit against the revenue budget was concerning but was not dissimilar across local authorities. It was requested that the wording concerning the ‘Twin Track’ approach to address the deficit, to be translated in Plain English as with the wording of future Member Briefings.
In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member explained that the ‘Twin Track’ approach saw two separate approaches run simultaneously looking at the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) and the budget for the next financial year. Acknowledging the funding, Covid-19 and demand-led pressures, the work on the budget for the future years beyond 2022/23 was being brought forward and work was underway across the directorates. She confirmed that her future Member Briefing would be written in Plain English.
Cabinet Member for Property: on portfolio rationalisation, a Member sought the definitions for natural capital, HGR and garden licences.
In response, the Cabinet Member explained that HGR referred to Halsey Garton Residential Ltd which was one of the Council’s subsidiary companies, garden licences were strips of land adjacent or behind gardens rented from the Council; and working in conjunction with the countryside team and the Cabinet Member for Environment’s team, natural capital referred to the potential 115 assets which could be moved over to the countryside estate to provide space for the planting of trees and to support the Greener Futures Programme.
Cabinet Member for Environment: on commercial waste, asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware that recently the waste sub-contractors closed the waste stations in Surrey without prior notification, concerning commercial waste. Whilst it was a non-statutory service, the Cabinet Member’s assurance was sought that such an issue would not happen again in the future and noted several complaints received on the issue which coincided with the recent fuel delivery shortage.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment noted that officers acted swiftly on the matter once aware, as of today Epsom, Leatherhead and Slyfield Community Recycling Centres had resumed receiving commercial waste. The issue had been raised with the waste contractor, she highlighted the Waste Transformation Project and importance of partnership working concerning communications and engagement.
Cabinet Member for Children and Families: on the National Transfer Scheme, asked whether the Cabinet Member could confirm how Surrey compared to neighbouring local authorities with its responsibility for the care of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
In response, the Cabinet Member explained that the Council participated in the voluntary National Transfer Scheme on a good will basis. The Council was of the view that the Scheme should be mandatory, and as part of the Scheme it recently took two young brothers into its care.
Cabinet Member for Communities: on Your Fund Surrey, noted that highways were excluded from the funding and asked the Cabinet Member to revisit the criteria for Your Fund Surrey to see whether there was any flexibility on the matter as that would allow residents in his division to put together a bid for YFS funding.
In response, the Cabinet Member noted that YFS took a flexible approach in reviewing applications from residents. He explained that highways were a grey area which he would look into. The ethos of YFS was that residents should be able to carry out their projects by themselves.