Agenda item


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 2 February 2022).




Items 7 and 8 were after items 9 to 16




Notice of twenty questions had been received.


The questions and replies were published in the supplementary agenda on 7 February 2022. A number of supplementary questions were asked and a summary of the main points is set out below.


(Q3)Robert Evans asked the Cabinet Member for Environment whether she was aware that most scientists agree that bees across Surrey and nationally were dying for a number of reasons including habit destruction and pesticides; and asked whether she would contact Surrey’s eleven MPs to stop the use of pesticides which were harmful to bees.


The Chair asked the Cabinet Member to confirm whether there would be beehives at Woodhatch Place.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment explained that her day job was in conservation and biodiversity, she was happy to contact Surrey’s eleven MPs and national government political parties to ensure that they were aware of Surrey’s pollinator strategy and to reconsider the use of harmful pesticides to bees. She noted that she did not know the circumstances around the emergency use of the pesticide in January 2022, which she noted should be used as infrequently as possible.


The Cabinet Member responded that she was supportive of the above proposal of having beehives at Woodhatch Place as part of the Council’s pollinator strategy.


(Q4) Jonathan Essex had no supplementary question.


Ernest Mallett MBE asked the Leader for a further explanation as to why the removal of the highways functions from Local and Joint Committees through new engagement methods would be better than the existing decision-making structure, as Local and Joint Committees currently engaged closely with residents. He asked whether the reason for the removal of the highways functions was that it was preferable to remove top-level decisions away from Local and Joint Committees. 


John Beckett asked why none of the Local and Joint Committees’ chairmen or vice-chairmen were involved in the decision to remove the highways functions and sought assurance that they would be involved in decision-making processes going forward.


In response, the Leader noted that the matter was discussed at the recent meeting of the Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee and that he welcomed any representations on the matter at the February meeting of the Cabinet.


(Q5) Catherine Baartasked the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources whether she saw a role for residents to contribute to the Twin Track approach.


In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources explained that the point of the Twin Track approach was to provide time to develop an approach to savings and efficiencies for the future. Projects and programmes would be scrutinised and where necessary there would be consultation with residents.


(Q7) Angela Goodwin asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure whether he would provide a breakdown of how the additional £3 million in funding for road safety would be spent and where.


Jonathan Essex highlighted that the written response noted that there were 93 twenty miles per hour (20 mph) schemes across Surrey but the map of where those schemes were showed that there were twenty-five single streets and thirty zones. He asked how those figures added up to 93 and whether the amount of schemes which covered 1.7% of Surrey's highways by length, were dealing with the issue of speeding across Surrey or whether the Cabinet Member saw speeding to be an issue only on the particular roads with schemes.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure noted that he would provide the breakdown of the additional £3 million in funding for road safety.


The Cabinet Member assumed that the Member had read his Twitter feed recently as those figures looked familiar. He would provide the Member with an updated list of all the 20 mph zones and he explained that 20 mph zones do not alone reduce speeding, as speed reduction came from working with the police and through having the correct engineering measures in place.


Jonathan Essex clarified that he had not read any Twitter feeds but had worked those figures out himself, he noted the importance of being honest and truthful in how Members refer to each other.


The Chair agreed that Members must be courteous when referring to one another.


(Q9) Stephen Cooksey asked the Leader to clarify what the specific uses were for the additional £200,000 in the budget for the Communications, Engagement & Public Affairs directorate and how could that increase be justified in the current financial climate.


Lance Spencer asked whether he believed that the budget was sufficient to engage with residents to ensure the necessary behaviour change required for the LTP4 and the Greener Futures Climate Change Delivery Plan.


In response, the Leader noted that he would provide the breakdown following the meeting on what the additional £200,000 would be spent on. He emphasised the importance for the Council to provide timely and accurate information to residents through its Communications team, during the pandemic the Covid-19 Top Lines Brief was excellent and well-received.


The Leader noted that there were separate communications plans for delivering the Greener Futures Climate Change Delivery Plan for example and that ensuring behaviour change through communications and education was vital for residents to reduce their carbon footprint.


(Q10) Fiona White welcomed the Joint Venture which was an innovative way to address the issue. She highlighted the ambition to save money in agency spend as that would be important regarding the Council’s revenue budget and she asked the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources whether she would ensure that all Members receive regular reports on those savings achieved and at what rate.


Robert King asked the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member if she could comment on whether the high use of agency staff was one of the main factors for poor real-term pay offerings in the budget, and whether any future savings would be used to give the lowest paid Council staff a real-term pay rise.


In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources thanked the Member for acknowledging the innovation that the Council was making. She noted that the response provided highlighted the Council’s improved position by £10 million for 2021/22. She explained that the majority of the spend was on social workers and that the ongoing monitoring of how the Council was performing was included in her monthly financial reporting to the Cabinet and could be reviewed by the relevant select committee.


The Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member clarified that the spend on agency staff had no link to the Council’s spend and its pay offering to its officers, she noted that the budget included a pay increase for the Council’s lowest paid staff.


(Q11) Lance Spencer noted that he calculated the number of people in Horsell Village that were affected by 20 mph schemes and that totalled 600 residents, that would mean that approximately across Surrey the 93, 20 mph schemes that had taken eight years to deliver would have benefited 60,000 residents. At the current speed, Surrey would have delivered 80% of its 20 mph schemes by 2140. He asked whether the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure would agree that the current slow speed was not consistent with the draft LTP4 or the Greener Futures Climate Change Delivery Plan.


Catherine Baart noted that the draft LTP4 stated that 20 mph would be the default speed limit for busy town centres and residential roads, and she asked how that would be implemented proactively once the LTP4 was approved.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure did not agree with the Member’s comment regarding the current speed of implementing 20 mph schemes.


The Cabinet Member explained that the Council did proactively reduce speed limits with the police and divisional Members. He noted that currently rural speed limit reductions applied to a range of speed limits from unrestricted down to 20 mph, once the LTP4 had been agreed, the Council would continue with its proactive approach.


(Q12) Liz Townsendwelcomed the recognition that Government funding would impact on the scale and timescales in which the Council could deliver a change in public transport. She noted that residents in her division sought to know when they could see improvements in their bus services and she asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure to provide assurance that there was an end date in sight for the resumption of cut services and for that to be shared with her.


TheCabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure responded that the service reduction was due to the shortage of drivers, once he hears an update from Stagecoach he would inform the Members affected.


(Q13) Paul Follows welcomed the initiatives outlined in the response and looked forward to seeing further detail in the future. He noted that retrofitting homes to an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of C in line with the Government’s policy, would require significant increases in funding across Surrey. That the details of the Government’s funding was absent and the number of homes in Surrey that need to reach EPC rating of C was greater than the number of fuel poor homes noted in the response. He asked whether Surrey had conducted its own analysis of the magnitude of the costs needed for the decarbonisation of homes, whether Surrey had conducted an evaluation of the capacity to deliver the changes required, and whether he could have a breakdown of the £7,849 average costs of decarbonisation measures per home stated in the response; if useful, he was happy to share the data from Waverley Borough Council on the cost of the decarbonisation of homes.


The Cabinet Member for Environment welcomed that offer of the data from Waverley Borough Council. She noted that she would provide the breakdown of the £7,849 figure. She added that there were three new officer roles to focus on decarbonising homes and to progress the initiatives outlined in her response. That the Council had also allocated £150,000 to start identifying fuel poor housing and houses below the EPC rating of C. The work on decarbonising homes was progressing with resources having been put aside, whilst she did not have all the figures requested she was happy to follow up with the Member outside of the meeting.


(Q14) Robert Evans noted that the response provided referred to foodbanks, he asked whether the Leader believed that the increase in the number and usage of foodbanks was to be celebrated; and asked whether he believed that they were a long term solution to the cost of living crisis.


In response, the Leader emphasised that he did not celebrate the use of foodbanks and hoped that they were not a long-term solution to the issue of food poverty. He noted that earlier discussions had highlighted the Council’s and Government’s support to residents and moving out of the pandemic the Council would address such issues.


(Q18) Stephen Cooksey noted that the information provided in the response referred exclusively to a potential County Deal, the Levelling Up White Paper appeared to emphasise the additional resources for communities in the North and Midlands in England but failed to identify new sources of funding. He asked whether the Leader had concerns that levelling up elsewhere would result in levelling down for Surrey.


George Potter noted that the Government appeared to be offering a menu of three levels of devolution deals, level one: a simple joint committee of different authorities of an area, level two: a non-mayoral combined authority and level three: a mayoral combined authority with a directly elected mayor or governor. He asked the Leader whether he intended to consult with the Borough and District Councils as to the best way forward for making the most of opportunities contained within the Levelling Up White Paper.


In response, the Leader noted that he did not share those concerns, the Council would continue to lobby the Government for funding and recognised that as a relatively affluent county it should help more deprived areas in the country. That when timely, the Council would actively pursue conversations on a County Deal and make known its contributions to the wider economy. That the Council must focus on four areas: growing the local economy and supporting people to get back into work, focusing on the health and wellbeing of Surrey’s residents, pursuing the initiatives set out in the budget and elsewhere such as actively pursuing the Green Futures agenda and the Council must ensure that there are thriving communities.


The Leader explained that a Surrey Delivery Board had been established and that it must be a joint effort alongside the leaders of the Borough and District Councils and the towns and parish councils. Regarding the three levels, what was important was what would be best for Surrey and that required support from all political parties to support the initiatives outlined in the budget.


(Q19) Liz Townsend asked the Cabinet Member for Children and Families to advise her of how many private children's homes in Surrey were in the position where the Council was not satisfied with the quality of their provision and so was not able to place any children in them.


Jonathan Essex noted that as a result of the review of the Ofsted monitoring reports which meant that the issues outlined in the article came to light, he asked the Cabinet Member how the Council has reviewed the way it monitors and oversees those independent children's homes; the Council must change what it does to take responsibility for its own children.


Robert King noting previous concerns raised in recent months on the issue, he asked the Cabinet Member for assurance that Surrey as the Corporate Parent would know where its vulnerable children were located.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Children and Families noted that she could not inform the Member on which independent children’s homes were providing a sub-stand quality as such homes were regulated by Ofsted outside of the Council’s responsibility. That when the Council placed children in any independently run children’s home, it had a robust process in place such as visiting the children’s home and judging the appropriateness of the home for the child.  


The Cabinet Member explained that where the Council was placing its children, it would be assured of the quality of the provision. She noted the difficulty for the Children’s Service in finding the right homes for Looked After Children, what was important was placing a child in a high quality and loving home which might in some cases be outside of the county.


The Cabinet Member provided assurance that the Council knew where all of its Looked After Children were living.


Paul Deach left the meeting at 14.26 pm.


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