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 18 May 2022).





Notice of thirteen questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in the first supplementary agenda (items 11, 12, 14) on 23 May 2022.


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


(Q1) Nick Darby referred to the adjustments to be made at all of the Council’s offices, noting that particular attention should be given to further adjustments at Woodhatch Place including travel arrangements from the various stations. He asked the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste what the proposed changes were and when those would be implemented.


In response, the Leader in the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste’s absence,would look to provide a response in due course.


(Q2) Lance Spencer noted that the student referred to in his question had started school yesterday however the school was a forty-minute journey away. He noted concern on the volume of school aged children likely to be arriving from the Ukraine in Surrey - around 1,000 - and noted that there would be a shortfall of places available. He asked the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning whether she believed that the Council and the Government were doing enough to ensure that all schools, including academies, make places available with reasonable travel distances for the Ukrainian children from the host homes. With such a large volume of children arriving in such a short space of time he asked whether there would be sufficient qualified resource to support them properly in those schools.


Jonathan Essex highlighted that compared to the response the recent Ukraine update received by Members included figures which were more than double for primary-aged and secondary-aged children arriving from Ukraine. He noted that the challenge was greater than stated in the response and queried what the plan would be to address the huge deficit in school place requirements.


In response to both Members, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning provided assurance that the resources to support Ukrainian families within Surrey’s schools was growing daily. The Council updated the Surrey Education Services Hub regularly with new resources including briefing documents produced by the International Rescue Committee aimed at schools and new daily consultation sessions to offer bespoke support to school leaders - to go live at the beginning of half term and would be delivered by the Council. The Council was regularly updating its FAQs for in-year school admissions, transport and pastoral support; and was working closely with its head teachers in the areas with the greatest number of Ukrainian children taking a coordinated approach to school admissions and enabling the children to settle quickly as close to their host home as possible.


(Q3) George Potter noted that there were some aspects of the response which appeared to be contradictory and he sought clarification. He noted that the response said that there would not be any retrospectively applied cap, however two paragraphs further down stated that the new approach would affect existing clients and he provided an example of a resident that had received further contact from the care provider saying that their funded service would be initially capped at 35 hours. He noted that he had further correspondence from the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health, and the service lead which confirmed that carers who accessed prevention and early intervention service would be offered up to 35 hours of carers’ breaks. He queried whether that would represent a net increase or net reduction in the overall number of hours of care being provided, highlighting an example of a resident caring for their elderly father where it appeared that their respite would decrease from 150 hours a year to 35 hours a year. He asked the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health  whether the cap of 35 hours would be applied to those in receipt of existing care and whether the change in policy would represent an overall net increase or net reduction in the number of hours of care being provided across the entire county in the year.


The Chair had requested the Member to ask his supplementary question succinctly and to be courteous.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health would provide a written response.


(Q4) Robert Evans asked the Cabinet Member for Community Protection how hewould he suggest that he responds to residents when they ask how the reduction in the number of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) in Surrey aids community safety or the fight against crime or anti-social behaviour.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Community Protection clarified the response provided, noting that the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey (PCC) had contacted him clarifying that the deployment of resources was an operational matter under the remit of the Chief Constable and not the PCC. He explained that at the meeting of the Surrey Police and Crime Panel on 21 April 2022, the PCC clarified that Surrey Police had replaced twenty-two PCSOs with fully warranted officers - as those positions had become vacant - to improve operational effectiveness in neighbourhood teams. He highlighted that the PCC had expressed her concern that the replacement of PCSOs was being incorrectly linked to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey’s budget in tweets by Panel members.


(Q5) David Lewis(Cobham) welcomed the informative answer and the Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Economy’s commitment that the disruption to the roads around Cobham and Oxshott would be minimised during the work. He noted that the approval of the M25 junction 10/A3 Wisley Interchange work was a precondition for the potential development of the Wisley Airfield site and asked the Cabinet Member whether he could provide assurance that Surrey Highways would ensure that any future development of Wisley would not result in the narrow lanes around Cobham Downside and Hatchford becoming access roads for the new Wisley development.


Stephen Cooksey left at 11.34 am.


Mark Sugden referred to the Traffic Management Plan that needed to be approved by the Secretary of State following consultation with the Council and asked when that Plan would be agreed as works were due to start in autumn. He also asked for divisional Members to be informed on what local issues the Council was advising National Highways on.


Colin Cross noted that his division represented the other side of the A3 and surrounding areas would be hugely affected by the work to the M25 junction 10/A3 Wisley Interchange. He asked what detailed answer had been given on the matter and asked for further details of the traffic planning exercise that had taken place.


The Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Economy responded to David Lewis (Cobham), noting that following a divisional site visit he was happy to commit to the minimised disruptionto the roads around Cobham and Oxshott during the improvement work. He had spoken to the Traffic Manager and Streetworks Team who were aware that when a planning application was forthcoming, the roads would be given special consideration to minimise or eliminate any through-traffic from a proposed development. If requested, he was happy to set up a meeting with the Member and the team to run through more detail prior to an application being received.

The Cabinet Member responded to Mark Sugden, noting that the local issues that the Council had been advising National Highways on was the local road programme so as not to clash with the M25 junction 10/A3 Wisley Interchange work, as a similar programme was underway with National Highways on the A320 concerning the upgrade to junction 11. He would advise the Member of any divisional issues.


The Cabinet Member responded to Colin Cross, noting that the draft Traffic Management Plan would be shared in due course with the divisional Members that would be affected so that they could provide feedback as part of the Council’s consultation response back to the Secretary of State.


(Q6) Jonathan Essex noted that it was unclear from the response how the Council’s investment in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) places would reduce the number of non-maintained and independent school (NMI) places procured by the Council in Surrey and outside the county; and what the likely impact would be on the Home to School Transport budget. He requested that the matter be scrutinised in more detail at a future meeting of the Children, Families, Lifelong Learning and Culture Select Committee.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning explained that significant capital investment and the expansion of specialist schools would reduce the Council’s reliance on placements outside of Surrey and would reduce pressure on the Home to School Transport budget. She noted that by investing in more local provision, Home to School Transport could provide shorter journeys with a higher occupancy per vehicle, reducing unit costs and increasing sustainability. She welcomed scrutiny on the matter at the Children, Families, Lifelong Learning and Culture Select Committee.


(Q7) Catherine Baart asked the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste for the reviews by the Department for Education (DfE) and the feedback from Reigate and Banstead Borough Council’s planning department mentioned in the response to be shared with her.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning in the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste’s absence,noted that the Council was constrained by the DfE in terms of the funding and standards for education provision regarding the Priority School Building Programme. She noted that she would liaise with the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste on the status of those reviews and provide feedback from Reigate and Banstead Borough Council’s planning department.


(Q8) Nick Darby noted that the 45p per mile travel allowance paid to staff driving for business purposes had not increased for a long time. The response indicated that the Council could approach Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and he asked the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources for the Council to do so; and he queried how the Council would liaise with the Trade Unions and staff on the matter. He further asked when the result was expected from the Council’s liaison across its council networks on the appetite to lobby the issue, how that conclusion would be reached and how it would be progressed with HMRC. He also asked what the Council could reasonably expect its staff to do in relation to the current 45p per mile allowance which was insufficient particularly in light of the fuel increases.


David Harmer asked whether it was known how the 45p per mile figure was developed by HMRC and what proportion of that was supposed to be for fuel, so an updated figure could be ascertained.


In response to Nick Darby, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources confirmed that the Council would approach HMRC, options were being reviewed and evidence would be needed. She noted that work on the matter was underway in terms of the Council liaising across its council networks. She recognised the concern but clarified that like many other employers the Council paid its staff the maximum rate. She explained that any voluntary increase above the HMRC rates would be taxable to staff and any increase would have a minimal impact on people's income as opposed to a pay rise, which was what the Council had provided to its staff.


The Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member responded to David Harmer, noting that the HMRC rate was set in 2011 and no announcement had been made in the recent Government budget on any changes to the rate.


(Q9) Robert Evans acknowledged the challenging issue and assumed that the Leader was aware that several hotels across Surrey had recently been commandeered at short notice to accommodate mainly non-Ukrainian asylum seekers and refugees; including one in his division. He asked whether the Leader was aware that apart from a visit by the local MP, there was no local consultation with Spelthorne Borough Council. He asked that when the Leader next speaks to the Home Office, he urges them to do all they could to communicate with the Borough and District Councils and where appropriate with local Members to make the community aware of those sensitive developments.


In response, the Leader noted that the matter also affected the Council as well as the Borough and District Councils, highlighting that the Council has its own responsibilities for those requiring social care and school places. He noted that the Council does not receive advanced notice of what the Home Office was doing concerning the arrival of new asylum seekers in Surrey. He noted that he would continue to raise the issue with Lord Harrington, Minister for Refugees. He noted the disconnect between the Home Office and some of the other Government departments, and that the Council would continue to lobby for timely information which it would share with the Borough and District Councils.


(Q10) Jonathan Essex welcomed the detailed response which highlighted the current situation that there was a need for the financial package of support the Council provides to its foster carers in Surrey to be reviewed. He asked the Cabinet Member for Children and Families for confirmation that the review would be carried out now as a matter of urgency, given the rising cost of living and he requested that the new rates could be agreed and introduced before the summer.

Catherine Powell requested that the wider review covers the cost of expectations, particularly regarding the costs associated with travel to family time arrangements and in light of the discussion under question eight around the 45 per mile travel allowance, which she believed also applied to the Council’s foster carers.


In responding to Jonathan Essex, the Cabinet Member for Children and Families explained that the review was underway at present. That along with the Director of Corporate Parenting she had met with the Foster Carer Executive last week and the matter was one of the items under active discussion. She would liaise with the relevant parties on when they expect to conclude the review and when new allowance rates would be payable, and would confirm that to Members in due course.


The Cabinet Member responded to Catherine Powell, noting that her response indicated that payments for foster carers did include mileage to meet the needs of a particular child such as for transport for family time.


(Q12) Jonathan Essex asked the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health to confirm when the details of the spending would be confirmed and when the details would be taken through the scrutiny process before a Cabinet decision was made on how the money would be spent.


Robert King asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware that many residents on the border of Surrey accessed mental health services not commissioned by Surrey Heartlands where the surgery was based in the county but their home practice was outside the county. He asked how the Cabinet Member was ensuring that residents who were paying the Council Tax increase would also benefit from the increase in mental health provision.


In responding to Jonathan Essex, the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health agreed that the matter needed to be brought forward in terms of scrutiny. She explained that the system being set up by the mental health convener which would determine how the funding would be invested most effectively, would be reviewed by the Mental Health Partnership Board and the Health and Wellbeing Board, and scoping was underway to look at how the Adults and Health Select Committee, and the Children, Families, Lifelong Learning and Culture Select Committee could also have sight of the process and provide input. 


The Cabinet Member responded to Robert King noting that she would provide a written response.


The Cabinet Member for Children and Families responded making specific reference to the Mindworks Surrey contract, which was based on a THRIVE model focusing on early intervention and prevention, grounded in a child’s local environment. She noted that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic the mental health system nationally was experiencing an unprecedented increase in numbers particularly of children and young people who were seeking support. By the end of the year the actual referral rate for children and young people was 16,000 compared to the predicted referral rate of 6,000. She stressed that both her and the Deputy Cabinet Member for Children and Families were focused on ensuring that Mindworks Surrey meets its target of providing timely and effective support to children and young people, achieved through investing in mental health and wellbeing practitioners and support workers across the Boroughs and Districts, particularly in schools. She noted that a wide and accessible network of community services was needed to support children and young people so that no one is left behind. She concluded that the decisions for where the Council commissions additional services and invests extra money in early intervention and prevention would be considered at Cabinet and the relevant Select Committee.


The Chair welcomed the useful update provided by the Cabinet Member for Children and Families, and requested that she share that information as a briefing to Members.


(Q13) Catherine Baart noted to the Cabinet Member for Environment that shelooked forward to hearing at the relevant Select Committee how the River Basin Management Plans update would impact the Council.


Catherine Powell asked that the Cabinet Member increases the use and the knowledge of the Environment Agency’s (EA) flood risk map for surface water now available on the Council’s Geographic Information System in addition to the EA’s long-standing fluid flood risk maps which she believed to be critical for the Council's ability to address the impacts of climate change.


Nick Harrison raised the issue of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) and the consultations in relation to new planning applications where the Council was a consultee only on major applications. He noted however that most of the developments in his division were not major and had understood that the service would be looking to provide budgets for advice to be provided on smaller applications where there was a particular flooding risk.


In response to the three Members, the Deputy Cabinet Member for Environment in the Cabinet Member for Environment’s absence,would liaise with the Cabinet Member to provide responses on the supplementary questions. He provided reassurance that he and the Cabinet Member would continue to work with other agencies like the EAand Thames Water to raise the importance of tackling water pollution, which also aligned with the nature recovery plan. He highlighted that Surrey’s water environment included ponds and smaller water features, he and the Cabinet Member were looking at ways to protect those such as addressing parasiticides on dogs which were poisoning rivers and ponds across the UK.


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