Agenda item


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 16 March 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 twenty questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in the supplementary agenda (items 6 and 8) on 21 March 2022.


A number of supplementary questions were asked and a summary of the main points is set out below:


(Q4) Lance Spencer highlighted the table on the number of referrals to children’s social care provided in the written response which showed a drop of nearly 2% nationally compared to an increase of just over 4% regionally between 2017/18 and 2019/20. In Surrey the decrease was around 38% or just over 5,000 children that had disappeared from the system annually, he noted the concern when the Sure Start centres closed that many children without high needs would fall through the system. He asked whether the Cabinet Member for Children and Families had observed that to be the case and whether there were plans to recover those 5,000 children.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Children and Familiesdisagreed with the Member’s interpretation of the figures, children were not disappearing. She explained that the table detailed referrals as opposed to contact made and when children entered the social care system referrals were made by professionals and families. She was happy to follow up with the Member on the matter.


(Q6) Hazel Watson asked whether the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure agreed that the Council should publicise the fact that residents should not trail electric vehicle (EV) charging cables across pavements and should deter residents from doing that as they cause a safety hazard.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure agreed with the Member noting thatas per the written response, the Council published advice on its website on not trailing EV charging cables. He would liaise with the Council’s Communications team to see what more could be done via social media.


(Q9) Nick Darby expressed delight that there were defibrillators at Woodhatch Placeand the reception staff had been trained on how to use those. He asked whether it would be useful to have clear signage so that Members and staff know their location.


The Chair suggested that it would be good to have a training session for Members on how to use the defibrillators.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Property and Wasteagreed that signage and possibly a map of their location should be in place and should be sent to Members. She would look into a training session and the appropriate team to deliver it.


(Q11) Lance Spencerhighlighted the Council’sambitious plan to attract £120 million funding under the Bus Back Better scheme but noted disappointment that the Council would get only £18 million. He noted that it was necessary to invest in zero emission buses. He asked how the Council would encourage greater use of buses going forward, noting the increased fares and reduced frequency of buses.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure noted disappointment that the bus sector was continuing to struggle particularly around the recruitment of drivers. Stagecoach had committed to getting back to previous levels from their temporary reduction in services. Bus and travel operators were at 70% capacity compared to pre-Covid and the continued provision by the Government of the recovery grant to October was positive. The Council’s own investment of £9 million annually was vital to encourage greater bus use - to ease congestion and benefit the environment - with forthcoming plans for half price bus travel for all those aged under twenty years old. He noted that encouraging the greater use of buses would be achieved through a combination of ways.


(Q12) Stephen Cooksey was not present to ask a supplementary question.


Lance Spencer highlighted a recent meeting of the EV Member Reference Groupwhere debate was had about how officers would deal with the distribution of 10,000 EV charging points around Surrey over the next seven years. The conclusion was that in the absence of the highway functions from the Local and Joint Committees, each Member would need to look at each application individually and liaise with the relevant Borough and District Council. He asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure to explain how the Council would deal with the distribution.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Communities emphasised that nothing had changed in respect of the community engagement through the Local and Joint Committees. The communities’ teams were increasing their engagement with residents and a Member seminar would be run in May or June setting out how Members would be helped with engaging with their communities and how partners would engage with Members.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure explained that a few pilots were underway on EV charging points. The Council was awaiting the next Government grant announcement about EV charging points. He noted that the Council would shortly be given a direct award with a private operator which would see the rapid increase on EV charging points in the county over the next few years. He would update Members on the matter in due course.


(Q14) Jonathan Essex asked the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure to confirm when the new grass cutting contracts on highway verges would be let and in the meantime what the Council would do to encourage those eight Borough and District Councils to reduce their grass cuts.


Rachael Lake asked that when the grass cutting contracts for highway verges expire, could consideration be given to local conservation groups to wildflower them as that would make a huge difference to the biodiversity and give residents a choice.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure noted that as per the written response the Council was offering a one-year extension to April 2023 to the existing agency agreements with the Borough and District Councils until the final changes to contracts were made. He explained that the Council paid for a set number of cuts which was four in urban areas and two in rural areas annually as well as one weed spray. The Council was encouraging the Borough and District Councils not to cut, the frequency varied between six to eleven across the county. 


The Cabinet Member explained that the Council was actively encouraging residents to get in touch with the Highways team, he highlighted that the Council supported the Blue Campaign to reduce mowing and increase the planting of wildflowers. He noted that Elmbridge Borough Council would be moving into the county programme.


(Q17) Jonathan Essex looked forward to hearing the results of the pilot in Elmbridge on the use of the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) used as enforcement, which could be rolled out further. He asked the Cabinet Member for Environment to indicate how many households the Sustainable Warmth funding would support. He also asked how many low income and off-gas homes there were in Surrey, in order to understand the scale of the challenge and funding required.


Robert Kingreferred to the pilot in Elmbridge to identify private rental properties in breach of the MEES and asked whether it would be an opportunity for the Council to explore a licensing scheme to the private rental sector, to be promoted in the Boroughs and Districts.


Lance Spencer expressed concern that in the Green Futures Climate Change Delivery Plan the target was to deliver improvements to insulation and heating to over 32,000 properties by 2025 and to date such improvements had been made to only 547 homes. He asked whether the Cabinet Member thought there was a chance that the targeted number could be achieved. 


In response, the Cabinet Member for Environmentwelcomed the question and the matters raised were important for the Council in reaching its goals.She noted that she would provide the figures requested on Sustainable Warmth funding in due course.


The Cabinet Member noted that licensing was broadly done at Government level and welcomed an elaboration on the suggestions around licensing. She was happy to follow up on the matter with the Member.


The Cabinet Member noted that pilots were underway and that the Council was awaiting an update on Government funding. The targets were in place to be met and the Council would carry on with its objectives, working with its partners.


(Q18) Lance Spencer asked that if the Your Fund Surrey plan was delivered in that £100 million would be spent by 2025, could the Cabinet Member for Communities confirm that would cost £3 million per year for the next fifty years.


Edward Hawkins welcomed that written response that noted that officers continued to listen to feedback and made further refinements to Your Fund Surrey, and that Members were encouraged to speak with their communities. He asked whether the Cabinet Member could re-examine the issue in his division of taking a local road out of highways thereby making it available for a bid through Your Fund Surrey.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Communitiesstressed that the Council did not stipulate that it would spend £20 million annually for five years, that figure was an even breakdown out of the £100 million which had no time limit to be spent. To date £1.5 million had been awarded via Your Fund Surrey despite Covid-19 and work ceasing during last year’s County Council elections. It was a scheme that was not seen elsewhere in the country and momentum in awarding funding was increasing. 


The Cabinet Member noted that he would follow up the matter with the Member around the issue of the local road as a highway. He explained that fundamental to Your Fund Surrey was for communities and residents to come forward with projects and to directly bring them into fruition, which excluded highways.


In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resourcesnoted that £3 to £4 million for every £100 million borrowed covered the cost of the Council’s interest payable and the cost of repaying that borrowing. The Council borrowed on an asset-by-asset basis and therefore the time spent to pay that back differed. An affordable level of borrowing was built into the Council’s Medium-Term Financial Strategy and the Council used its our cash balances to minimise borrowing.


(Q20) Jonathan Essex noted concern in the negative consequences of drinking alcohol during pregnancy on the foetus and child later in life. He referred to ‘already drinking dependently’ in the written response which highlighted the need for more early and preventative action to reduce the consequences. He asked the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health what additional funding or Government support the Council needed to minimise substance abuse and the occurrence of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).


In response, the Cabinet Member for Adults and Healththanked the Member for raising the profile of the condition which has potentially catastrophic outcomes. She provided reassurance of the focus on prevention and early intervention across Adult Social Care and Public Health. She noted that there needed to be early messaging of the impact of even social drinking during pregnancy, so women can make informed decisions. She explained that Surrey’s Substance Misuse Strategy was being reviewed this year and focused on early intervention and prevention. She would bring the Strategy to Members’ attention when consultation started. She would look into the comment made with the Director of Public Health on the funding needed to address the issue.

Cabinet Member Briefings:


These were also published in the supplementary agenda (items 6 and 8) on 21 March 2022.


There were no questions asked by Members.


Supporting documents: