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 Wednesday 5 October 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-six questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in the second supplementary agenda (items 7 and 9) on 10 October 2022.
A number of supplementary questions were asked and a summary of the main points is set out below:
(Q2) Catherine Powell noted that on the response to part a) she asked the Cabinet Member to advise how many Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) were actually performed within the twenty weeks and to advise whether children with social workers assigned were also included. Regarding part b) she queried whether the response noting ‘to strengthen a systemic approach’ entailed further paperwork as opposed to streamlining. Regarding c) she did not feel that the response answered her question, she sought a yes or no answer. Regarding part e) she asked what about previously Looked After Children and children with a social worker, those two issues had not been addressed.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that she did not have the details to hand to respond to the supplementary questions and would look to provide that information in writing. She was delighted to have received many questions relating to her portfolio and highlighted that there was a monthly drop-in session covering Children, Families and Learning which was open to all and she would be happy to cover detailed questions in that forum.
(Q3) Chris Townsend queried a sentence in the response which stated: ‘Where high demand exists between residential areas and places of learning, local bus services and coaches are already provided to meet the needs of entitled pupils.’ He sought an explanation as he was not aware of any local bus services that were already provided.
Jonathan Essex sought clarification on what the ‘exciting proposal’ mentioned in the response was.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth responded to Chris Townsend noting that the Council did subsidise and put several bus services on to get children to schools; he would ask the team to provide the list concerning the Member’s area. Responding to Jonathan Essex, he noted that as stated further in the response the Council was providing a half fare bus scheme for everyone aged under twenty years old to encourage public transport use - irrelevant to whether they are in education or not - the Council from April 2023 would also be following the Government's £2.00 bus fare cap in January to March 2023.
(Q4) Michaela Martin requested more detail on the South East 19 and what it involved; she also asked what funding would there be to support schools that were struggling with high Special Educational Needs and Disabilities cross-border issues, low numbers and high costs which fall outside the remit.
Catherine Powell referred to the Leader’s Statement that abandoning Surrey’s communities was not something that the administration would ever do, however the response to the third paragraph seemed to indicate that the Council would be deliberately doing that, and she asked for the Cabinet Member to advise.
In response to Michaela Martin, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that she would provide more detail on the South East 19 to the Member.
Regarding the second supplementary question from Michaela Martin, and Catherine Powell’s supplementary question, she noted that those questions required a detailed explanation which she had tried to encapsulate in her response. She noted that schools funding was based on the National Funding Formula (NFF), which was devolved funding through the Council direct to schools; it was set nationally and was agreed annually with all schools through their statutory Schools Forum. She reiterated paragraph two of her response and noted that there was no scope for the Council to offer additional funding to schools as schools were funded on a per capita pupil basis.
(Q6) Robert Evans noted that all Surrey first preference offers were below the national average - marginally in some cases - and asked the Cabinet Member what percentage of children in the county did not receive any of their preferences of schools. He also asked what how the Council could accommodate situations where parents were only offered a place at a religious school when they had expressly asked not to be placed at such a school.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that she did not have that detailed information to hand, she would liaise with the Admissions team and would circulate that information to the Member.
(Q7) Carla Morsonnoted that the Council held £22 million of Section 106 funding, she requested a breakdown of where that money came from and how much more the Council was likely to expect. Regarding the breakdown of funding for Education, Highways and Transport she asked which boroughs and divisions was covered and where the money come from.
George Potter noted that the Corporate Governance and Standards Committee at Guildford Borough Council (GBC) had recently conducted a review of Section 106 funding, and one of the findings was that of the Section 106 contributions received within the borough, about £8.25 million sat with Surrey County Council. GBC was undertaking an exercise to communicate with all ward councillors the allocations within their own wards, what had been received and what it was earmarked for and what was spent. He asked whether the County Council could undertake a similar exercise concerning Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) contributions and to communicate that to all divisional Members.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth noted that he would provide the information requested to both Members.
(Q9) Stephen Cooksey asked whether one of the reasons for the decrease in waste and recycling handled by those Community Recycling Centres (CRCs) listed was the reduction in access for residents due to the limited opening hours. He also asked how requiring residents to drive from Dorking to Leatherhead to deposit materials on four days a week aligned with the Council’s climate change policies, which sought to reduce vehicle use.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment referred to Q22 which stated that there had not been an increase in fly-tipping so people were taking their recycling on the days that the CRCs were open, there had not been any complaints on the matter and she noted that she was happy to liaise with the Member on any particular concerns about his local CRC.Resourcing was the issue and the focus must be on increasing reuse as well as increasing recycling.
(Q10) Lance Spencernoted that the Independent Travel Allowance (ITA) option did make sense for some parents, and that it would save the Council money. He referred to the last paragraph of the response that said that ‘No SEND Children have had their solo transport removed’ which seemed positive. However, referring to the example in his question he asked whether it was the Council’s policy that to secure that sort of transport, the parent must go through both stages of the Appeals Panel, as the parent in that case was traumatised by the experience.
Catherine Powell sought clarification from the Cabinet Member regarding 16+ transport, noting that her understanding was that the policy was changed to automatically provide a bursary rather than providing transport. This had caused huge problems within her division, and she asked whether the policy would be reviewed this year to look at whether there was a reason why it was not appropriate for a particular family; for example if they did not have access to a car or if their child used a wheelchair.
In response to Lance Spencer, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning clarified that it was not the intention that any individual family would be forced through the appeals process in the circumstances that he outlined. She reinforced the Leader's apology to those families who had experienced anxiety and delays in the recent weeks relating to the Home to School Travel Assistance Policy.
Responding to Catherine Powell, she noted that the new Home to School Travel Assistance Policy was introduced in the spring term with effect from this year. The Council was currently in the process of conducting a ‘lessons learned’ review to see what had gone wrong this year. She noted that it was too soon to commit to a review of the Policy which was only in its very early weeks of operation.
(Q11) Catherine Baart asked the Cabinet Member to provide an idea of what the timescale was for that policy being reviewed by the Council.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience noted that he did not have an exact date but would try and find that out and let the Member know.
(Q12) Jonathan Essex noted that he understood from the response that the actual increase in High Needs Block funding was £11.5 million a year less than in the table provided because there was an equivalent decrease in the money direct to schools, which made the increase in High Needs Block funding net of the amount poached 32.5% which was less than the percentage increase to special schools and less than the EHCPs. He asked what level of shortfall the Council was getting from the Government for providing like for like as it seemed as though the Council was being asked to support special needs children with less money per pupil going forward while the Council received the same money per pupil as previous years for other children.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that she did not entirely disagree with the Member’s analysis of the situation. She noted that it was difficult to provide comparison on a like for like basis throughout the years because of issues such as teachers’ pay and conditions, she would liaise with Finance colleagues to see whether that comparative information was available and if it was, she would provide it to the Member. She noted that the shortfall between the funding through the High Needs Block and the actual cost to the Council of providing the services that children with additional needs required had been a challenge for the Council and many other local authorities nationally. The disparity in funding was a large issue for local government, which many councils and the County Councils Network (CCN) had been lobbying about and which the Government was partially starting to address through the Safety Valve agreements with certain authorities.
(Q13) Mark Sugden noted that the reason for the change by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (RBK) was to restrict inappropriate use of the road by Heavy Goods Vehicles and particularly heavy plant machinery. The concern remained that because of how it would be laid out, vehicles that could only enter and exit through Chessington would now only be able to enter and exit those two industrial locations through Claygate. Referring to the traffic survey data undertaken by RBK which had been shared with the Council, he sought a detailed understanding of the Council’s interpretation of that traffic survey data.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience noted that as traffic survey data was complex, he would be happy to have a discussion with the Member outside of the meeting to discuss the implications.
(Q15) Catherine Powell noted that she was not entirely convinced by the response in terms of her understanding of what the process was in place, as more than 50% of the increase in pupils - equating to six - in schools in her division were from Hampshire and that number was increasing. She sought an explanation of how the Council’s interface with Hampshire County Council worked in terms of planning for school places. She also asked the Cabinet Member to advise what the Edge-u-cate tool did and how it worked. The transport data from the Government in terms of forecasting ten years ahead only referred to the numbers of houses within the districts or boroughs, it did not take account of their localised concentration.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that to provide the level of detail that the Member requested, she offered the Member the opportunity to meet with the officers involved in school place planning for her area in order to explore the issue in greater depth.
(Q16) Robert Evans reiterated that the question asked what progress had been made and the response did not answer that,with the benefit of hindsight he asked the Cabinet Member whether he felt he could have done better with his answer, given more information and done more to excite the Council.
Denise Turner-Stewart asked the Cabinet Member to confirm how much involvement the communities had with the proposals, as the aspiration was that it was essential that the communities were working with officers to generate local solutions.
Responding to Denise Turner-Stewart the Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth provided assurance that the communities were involved in the process, there had been a huge number of suggestions from the communities on where to put Active Travel improvements, including low traffic areas. He and officers were excited that the Department for Transport had fully funded the scheme in the Member’s own area where a ‘School Streets’ pilot could be delivered, followed by further pilots and the delivery of low traffic ‘Liveable Neighbourhoods’.
(Q18) Stephen Cooksey noted thatgiven the increased messages from Government ministers indicating that it was a key policy of the Government to remove planning and environmental controls and due to the limited information available regarding Investment Zone policies, he asked the Leader what guarantee he had that the removal of planning and environmental controls in Investment Zones would be acceptable to the Council and would not undermine climate change policies.
In response, the Leader of the Council noted that the Member was picking up on some national noise in anticipation of what the Investment Zones would look like. There was no detail at present, and he noted that the Investment Zones in Surrey and nationally would only go ahead with the agreement of the planning authority.
(Q20) Jonathan Essex noted that the response towards the end outlined what the Government was doing going forward about the early years support for social workers, however his understanding from the exit interviews from those leaving Surrey was due to the issues of pay and workload. He asked whether the Cabinet Member thought that what the Government was doing was enough and if it was not, could she tell Members what she was doing to lobby the Government on the matter.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Children and Families noted that the point had been reiterated frequently at Council, in Select Committees and various settings, that a great deal of lobbying goes on and would continue to go on. She noted that having heard the supplementary question, the numerous questions to the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning and the Leader’s apology, she reminded Members that it was a vital moment for community leadership on behalf of Surrey’s children, young people and their families. The Council earlier in the year united behind a motion that committed Members to support the continuous improvement of the Council’s Children's Services; all had a collective responsibility in such matters.
(Q21) Nick Darby asked the Cabinet Member when the chasing letter from the Council was sent to HM Revenue and Customs and what were its contents. He requested a copy of the letter.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources noted that she would provide a copy of the chasing letter to the Member.
(Q22) Robert Evans noted that the response was puzzling that the amount of fly-tipping had decreased because many Members were concerned that fly-tipping remained prevalent. He asked the Cabinet Member what more could be done in conjunction with the district and borough councils to address the issue of fly-tipping, and whether she, or the Council was likely to support the Local Government Association (LGA) in their call on the Government to increase the levels of fines for people found guilty of fly-tipping. An average fine was £335, which was likely not enough to deter those people who make an industry out of fly-tipping.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Environment noted that the figures provided showed the fly-tipping that had occurred on council-owned lands. Where the Council and the district and borough councils could help each other and work with partners was to try and get an overall picture of where fly-tipping was happening on private land. In her view that average fine was insufficient, fly-tipping was horrendous and should have a very high penalty to it; she would look into the LGA’s lobbying on the issue and would discuss it with the Cabinet.
(Q23) Will Forster noted that the response was heartbreaking, effectively stating that 10% of the Council’s staff had used a food bank in the last two years. He welcomed some of the steps that the Council was taking but noted that the first sentence in the response was troubling as it stated that the Council did not collect that information. He asked the Leader whether he would agree that the Council should be asking staff if they use a food bank and what the Council could do as the employer to help them in the future.
In response, the Leader disagreed that the Council should ask that question as it was a private matter for staff. He noted that the Council was giving support to its staff in terms of looking at salary levels, and the response outlined what the Council did to address that for those in the lower pay brackets. He was sure that the Council would do the same next year. He also noted that if the Trade Unions or staff wanted to provide the Council with that information voluntarily then they could do so.
(Q26) Catherine Baart noted that the response was faint-hearted regarding the tackling of Surrey's car habit which the figures established was strong and embedded into the Surrey way of life; it caused many problems and it was not just a highways issue. She asked whether the Cabinet Member could request each of his colleagues to look in their own areas to see what could be done to address car use.
The Chair commented that in her view, car use had helped women to become more independent, and that it was a safe and reliable form of transport which was not all bad.
Catherine Powell referred to the Zero Emission Fleet by 2030 and asked the Cabinet Member whether the zero emissions included ensuring that all hydrogen was green hydrogen produced entirely from renewable energy. The quantity of green hydrogen that was available in the UK today would not power the fleet that the Council had already purchased.
In response, the Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth agreed with the Chair’s comments. Responding to Catherine Baart he noted that the key points of the Surrey Local Transport Plan 4 was to provide sustainable alternatives to residents. The Council was investing £49 million in zero emission buses, Metrobus was expecting their first 2,000 buses shortly and the Council was funding an additional thirty-five; the east of the county within the next few years would be completely net zero on the bus network. The Council was working with its other operators around electric buses. He noted that the Council’s walking and cycling awards from the Department of Transport of £13 million and the fact that every district and borough would have a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) would accelerate the shift away from private car use. He stressed that it would not be a one-size-fits-all solution for every resident in Surrey, car use would still be needed. Responding to Catherine Powell, he explained that the Council would be looking at using only electric or green or blue hydrogen - there would be no grey hydrogen - and the Council’s bus operators confirmed that they would be using only green hydrogen.
The Chair noted that the Council had recently held a wonderful open day at Woodhatch Place exhibiting a collection of sustainable vehicles. She wished that more Members had been able to attend as it was very informative, and she hoped that if a similar event took place in future, attendance would be greater.
Cabinet Member Briefings:
These were also published in the second supplementary agenda (items 7 and 9) on 10 October 2022.
Members made the following comments:
Deputy Cabinet Member for Levelling Up: on the local area coordination function, Nick Harrison noted that three local area coordinators had been appointed and he asked what they did, how many more were planned to be appointed, how were they funded and what was the criteria for selecting them.
In response, the Deputy Cabinet Memberexplained that there were currently three local area coordinators in place and the Council was in the process of recruiting another local area coordinator for the Old Dean area. She explained that their role was to work directly with families and communities on the ground, working on a one-to-one basis supporting families and residents. That was in line with achieving the Council’s ambition that ‘no one is left behind’; the Council needed to get closer to its communities and the local area coordinators fulfilled that aim. The Council had funded these roles and would review the progress and the value provided.
Cabinet Member for Adults and Health: on delivery of the Accommodation with Care and Support Strategy; in the Inner Circle Consulting report that was shared following the recent Member Development Session on Housing, there was a graphic on page 43 concerning the supported housing stock which seemed to indicate that some areas had relatively high current provision versus others. Catherine Powell asked the Cabinet Member to explain why the provision was in those areas that already had the highest levels of provision.
In response, the Cabinet Member noted that he did not have the details to hand and would respond to the Member outside of the meeting.
Deputy Cabinet Member for Highways:on parking enforcement, Nick Harrison asked which moving traffic violations would also be included in the contract. Noting that the degree of enforcement that would be possible depended on the resources inputted, he asked whether there was an intention to increase or decrease the level of enforcement and asked whether the aim was to withdraw those projects and services from the districts and boroughs.
In response, regarding moving traffic enforcement violations, the Deputy Cabinet Member noted that examples included stopping on yellow boxes or non-permitted right- or left-hand turns. He noted that the Council had completed its first consultation on the Dennis Roundabout, Guildford, and the Council would look to put cameras to control stopping on the yellow box junction. He noted that there were plans for other junctions where safety risks had been identified, such plans would be consulted on fully with Members and residents before implementation. Regarding parking enforcement, the Council was bringing this in-house so that it could offer a fair and consistent service across Surrey, as there were currently different approaches in every district and borough. He noted that the intention was to increase the service, including out of hours provision, rather than reduce enforcement in response to concerns raised by residents. Regarding environmental maintenance, this had been brought back in-house in order to offer a fair and consistent service; many district and borough councils had decided to hand the service back to the County Council He noted that the new contracts would allow the Council to increase biodiversity gains, and the Council was working closely with the Surrey Wildlife Trust. He noted that the topics raised had been covered at the Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee.
Cabinet Member for Property and Waste:on making savings on energy consumption and buildings through the establishment of an Energy Management Task Force, Jonathan Essex asked when the task force was established, what its targets were to reduce energy consumption in the Council’s buildings and when it planned to achieve that target by.
In response, the Cabinet Member noted that the Energy Management Task Force was discussed at the recent meeting of the Resources and Performance Select Committee, officers were setting up the Energy Management Task Force to look at buildings such as Woodhatch Place and their lighting and heating. At present it was an officer group which she expected to also sit on as the Cabinet Member, she would provide the Member with the timescales once established.