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 Wednesday 7 December 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-three questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in the second supplementary agenda (item 9) on 12 December 2022.


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


                   (Q1) Joanne Sexton asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that it was disappointing that the Council had chosen not to engage with the borough and district councils. She hoped that the questions would initiate a change of approach, ensuring that those Cabinet Members who are twin-hatters will communicate any changes in advance, a more inclusive process was needed which would benefit all residents.


                   In response, the Leader in the Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth’s absence would follow that up with the Member, he acknowledged that the more such matters can be discussed and agreed the better.


(Q2) Catherine Powell noted that at a recent select committee meeting the statement was made that using Surrey Deciles improved granularity; she asked the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member to explain how it improved granularity at the lower end of the deciles.


In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Community Safety explained that the Surrey Deciles were a useful tool that had been developed by the Public Health Intelligence and Insight team with a particular focus on the deprivation in Surrey to understand its granular nature, alongside other considerations such as public value and deprivation of isolation and transport. She noted that it was difficult to identify pockets of deprivation using a national measurement. She highlighted the large amount of analysis undertaken to inform processes such as Your Fund Surrey, providing a fuller understanding of where those deprived communities existed.


(Q4) Eber Kington noted that the response from the Leader continued to justify intervention in the functions reserved for the borough and district councils and ignored the concerns expressed to him by Surrey’s leaders. Due to the Government's imminent change to the law on the matter and given the Leader’s position as the Chairman of the County Councils Network, he asked that if the change in the law did not apply to the Council, which county councils it was aimed at.


In response, the Leader noted that he set out why it was important that the Council had a county-wide view of housing issues and noted a recent positive conversation with the leaders of the borough and district councils; the focus and lobbying of the Government would be on issues that affected the whole county.


(Q5) Robert Evans asked whether the Leader would agree that Surrey's food banks provided an invaluable service to many needy families in the county and asked whether he would join him in thanking all those staff and volunteers at the food banks. He asked whether he would agree that the need for food banks in Surrey - a wealthy county - was a sad indictment for twelve years of Conservative Party Government.


In response, the Leader noted the fantastic work carried out by the staff and volunteers at food banks and that he had witnessed the generosity of residents first hand at the East Surrey Food Bank in terms of donations. He commended the generosity, both in terms of money and time that people give to food banks enabling support to those families that need it, particularly around the current time of the year.


(Q6) Will Forster had no supplementary question.


Jonathan Essex noted that the response said that the Covid-19 impact on face-to-face frontline services had been successfully addressed, he asked whether the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member could confirm whether or when the Reigate Registration Office had or would be reopened and whether it would be relocated to Woodhatch Place. 


In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Community Safety confirmed that the Reigate Registration Office would reopen in February 2023 at its existing location.


(Q7) Liz Townsend welcomed the remuneration review for Surrey’s foster carers, however regarding the second part of her question about a plan B she asked whether there was an emergency plan in place if foster carer numbers continued to fall. If the Council’s recruitment measures were not successful, she asked whether there were clear thresholds in place to ensure that the Council did not end up in a crisis position.


Catherine Powell noted that she had raised some time ago the change that the Council made in terms of transport to family time affecting foster carers and their desire to stay with the Council, she asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that the matter would be reviewed.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Children and Familiesnoted that it was a priority area for the directorate and for the Council, foster carers were invaluable to the work the Council did to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of its children and young people. She provided her assurance that the areas highlighted in the questions would be reviewed and followed up. She noted that the Council would continue to invest resources into the development of care leaver accommodation within the county and the fostering strategy; staff had also been trained to undertake Merton Compliant Assessments. She acknowledged that working with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children required specific knowledge and skills and so a specialist team had been developed; that team had won an award at the Stars in Surrey Awards. Due to the increasing demand children could not always be allocated with the specialist team and arrangements were in place to support the quadrant teams.


(Q8) Hazel Watson noted that on the basis that the County Deal for Surrey included the provision for the Council to run adult education, she asked how the Leader intended to do that if he has no control over the east of the county; if the matter had been resolved, she asked why it could not be brought forward so that the issues raised in her question could be implemented now.


In response, the Leader noted that he received comments from the leaders of the borough and district councils yesterday on what they would like to see in a potential County Deal for Surrey; those comments would be included in the Council’s submission to the Government. He noted that the question was speculative as there was no guarantee that Surrey would get a Level 2 county deal, however he too had asked why the Council delivered the services for the west of the county whilst the services to the east of the county were delivered through East Surrey College. He noted that there were historical reasons for the current structure but hoped to combine the delivery of the services across the county as part of the skills agenda; negotiations were currently underway between the Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth, and East Surrey College.


(Q9) Lance Spencer noted that there were 1,000 families waiting for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) across Surrey - equivalent to twelve for each of the Council’s divisional Members - and a third of those had been waiting over the legal limit of twenty weeks. He asked what steps the was Council taking to reduce these excessive delays, which were the result of efficiencies made in previous budgets.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning acknowledged that there were delays in the system, particularly around the completion of EHCPs for 998 young people. She noted that nationwide only 60% of all young people being assessed for an EHCP were being assessed within the twenty-week period; that was inadequate. She noted that the delays happened due to a workforce shortage in Surrey’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) system, including caseworkers and staff in the Educational Psychology Service; there was a mandatory input on every assessment in the statutory process by an educational psychologist. To address the shortages, recruitment was underway, and staff were being trained as caseworkers; one quadrant was fully staffed and across the county staffing was at 80%. Also, by doing a more risk-based assessment of work with young people, the aim was to increase the timeliness in the completion of EHCPs by the end of 2022. 


(Q10) Fiona White welcomed the bid made for additional SEND places within the county. She noted that the response stated that the schools would not be provided by the Council and asked the Cabinet Member whether she would use her influence to ensure that the schools would be as close to good transport access as possible to help parents and children get to school and to avoid further difficulties with the Home to School Transport scheme.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that she would use her influence and explained that one of the reasons why the Council wanted to have maintained schools built within the county was to ensure that children could go to school closer to home, closer to their families, communities and social networks. 


(Q11) Jonathan Essex asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that whilst the Surrey Developer's Forum was hosted by a group of private developers that as public bodies including the Council, it would be appropriate to at least publish what was presented at these meetings and who was in attendance.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Children and Families noted that she was happy to follow up the matter with the Member and whilst it would not be her decision to make, she agreed that it would be useful for the minutes to be made public.


Robert King asked the Cabinet Member whether the Council had a policy offering land to the borough and district councils.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste confirmed that the borough and district councils in their local plans had allocated many sites for residential, office and retail use following joint work between the Council’s and the borough and district councils’ officers. She noted that in many cases the purpose of the land had been decided and the public were consulted through the local planning process. She noted the regular liaison between the Council and the borough and district councils; whilst much was done to bring forward developments, under Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972, the Council must obtain best value for money for its land and assets.


(Q13) Mark Sugden asked that if the Mayor of London and Transport for London (TfL) did pursue the expansion of the ULEZ and did not introduce any measures to mitigate the potential adverse impacts on the county, whether the Council would consider what it could do to help mitigate those impacts on Surrey’s residents, communities and businesses.


In response, the Chair in the Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth’s absence asked for officers to ensure that the Cabinet Member would provide a written response.


(Q14) Catherine Powell noted that in his statement the Leader said that the root causes of inequality needed to be addressed. She asked the Cabinet Member therefore to advise how all sixteen of the Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs) in Surrey that were in the bottom 10% nationally in terms of attainment and skills for young people that were not included in the Key Neighbourhoods, would be supported to address that source of inequality. 


In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Community Safety referred to the response to Part A of the question which looked at Income Deprivation Affecting Children and Education, Skills and Training Deprivation, noting that those measures sat alongside universal statutory services which were delivering for children and young people daily; therefore every measure listed in part A would not be included within the Key Neighbourhoods which had been agreed by the Health and Wellbeing Board. She explained that the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) was made-up of seven sub-domains and took many elements into account. She noted that the Key Neighbourhoods had the most deprivation across the IMD and the Public Health Intelligence and Insight team advised their use as a single best way of predicting health outcomes and to provide targeted support to reduce health inequalities and improve health outcomes. Beneath the IMD, insights on the ground from health colleagues and from Members were also relied upon. 


(Q15) Eber Kington thanked the Cabinet Member for offering a review of the policy, albeit when LED conversion was complete; he asked when that would be the case and whether he would commit to start the review before that date so that any change could be implemented immediately. He asked whether he would consult residents on the policy as part of the review, including women’s groups campaigning for safer streets.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience anticipated that the review would take place early next year around February, the LED rollout was nearly complete. He noted that there had been delays due to the Ukrainian crisis, for example. He noted that the criteria for the current streetlight night-time switch-off policy were areas where Surrey Police advised switching the lights off may have an adverse impact on crime, and roads with a significant road traffic collision record during the proposed switching off period.


(Q16) Robert Evans thanked the Cabinet Member for his help during the recent local flooding crisis in his division. He asked whether he was aware how deeply distressing the whole situation was for many residents to be knee deep in water and raw sewage outside their homes for several days, whilst the various authorities concerned failed to understand who was responsible for or was able to address the situation. He asked whether he would agree that the Council must do more to increase the cooperation between all the various agencies and Members, to ensure that in future there would be a quicker response, ensuring that residents are supported.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience agreed that the Council should, and it would continue to work closely together with the other agencies, however he noted that each agency had different statutory powers. He noted a positive example of collaborative working during the recent bad weather in Haslemere where the divisional Member went out several times and whilst it was not the Council’s role, the Highways team used its equipment to pump out the water. 


(Q18) Lance Spencer noted that 2,850 people were waiting to have a diagnosis of Autism and currently the Surrey and Borders Partnership (SABP) was dealing with cases from November 2019 and the volume was 1,200 whilst the capacity was 400. He asked whether the Council would put pressure on SABP to resolve the matter.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health noted that the Council was in constant contact with SABP about what they provide and what the Council provides. He noted that there was a meeting next week to discuss the matter and he would update the Member in due course about what would happen going forward.


(Q19) Jonathan Essex welcomed the response confirming that low cost, affordable housing was a key issue. He asked the Cabinet Member whether the Council on its owned land might have a restrictive covenant or similar to ensure that all housing builds regardless of whether the land was sold off or continues to be owned by the Council, would be for social housing with at least 50% for social rent.


Robert King asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware that the Local Government Act 1972 referred to by the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste in a previous response, included the criteria of social value within affordability and that would be a key indicator; he suggested that Members should go on a training course to understand what the legislation sets down.


In response to Robert King, the Cabinet Member for Children and Families noted that she would be happy to go on a training course alongside him. Responding to Jonathan Essex, she agreed that the need for low-cost housing was incredibly important and that was highlighted at the recent Surrey Housing Summit. She noted that it was difficult to commit to a percentage as it would be subject to individual developments and funding circumstances and was largely a matter for local determination by the borough and district councils. It was a complex issue and she noted that the Council needed to do all it could with its partners to ensure that low-cost key worker and affordable social housing were a priority.


(Q20) Catherine Baart asked the Cabinet Member what the target was - as a percentage - of EHCPs to be reviewed on time for next year and beyond.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that she did not know what the service target was for next year and she would look to find that out and would update the Member; she hoped that it would be closer to 100% of EHCPs reviewed within the time scale. She noted that many of the points that she raised in answer to an earlier question about the completion of EHCPs were pertinent here, for example that the recruitment of new caseworkers was key. She added that the service did prioritise the review of cases for children who were in a vulnerable category who are Looked After Children or on child protection plans, those children who were missing education and those who were coming up to a key stage transfer.


(Q21) Catherine Powell thanked the Leader for highlighting the importance of the Local Area Co-ordinators (LACs) during his statement. She asked the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member whether partnership funding from SABP and Frimley had yet been secured to expand beyond the four current LACs, and if not what the timing of that was envisaged to be.


In response, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Community Safetynoted that the Council had a successful bid for funding from Surrey Heartlands: £175,000 for 2023/24 and 2024/25; the figures from the other agencies were unconfirmed. She noted that the next areas to implement LACs were yet to be agreed so she welcomed the Member’s contribution to that conversation. She noted that there was a focus on the communities with the poorest health outcomes, and the approach was implemented in partnership with local communities, the borough and district councils, and health; a cross-system leadership group supported that implementation. She noted the exciting prospect of potentially funding three further LACs in partnership with the Council’s health colleagues. 


(Q22) Will Forster asked the Cabinet Member to confirm that the Surrey Schools Forum was happy with the approach.


In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that the Surrey Schools Forum met last week, and she would seek an update from officers as to the outcome of that meeting. She reiterated that the Cabinet agreed to the transfer of the 1% at its November meeting and it was waiting for the Secretary of State's approval.


(Q23) Jonathan Essex asked in terms of grant payments, how much were still being withheld by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), how much the Council currently anticipated receiving back from the Government and when that might be.


Nick Harrison noted that the Eco Park had been working for a while and that was the reason for the suspension of grant payments. He noted that the agreements setting out the reason for suspension had finished, therefore he asked whether there was any valid reason why the Council should not be receiving the extra grant payments.


In response to Jonathan Essex, the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste noted that the payments were subject to commercial confidentiality, and she would report that information to the Council as soon as she was able to. Responding to Nick Harrison, she noted that he was correct that the digester and gasifier were working, she noted that the strategic director was having ongoing discussions with Defra to come to a solution and once obtained she would report that back to the Member.


Cabinet Member Briefings:


These were also published in the second supplementary agenda (item 9) on 12 December 2022.


Members made the following comments:


Deputy Cabinet Member for Levelling Up: on the Council's levelling up bid of transport for Sheerwater, Will Forster asked whether she had heard back from the Government or whether she was aware when that decision would be made and for Members to be informed.


In response, the Deputy Cabinet Member explained that the Council was delighted to have put in a transport bid for levelling up Woking, and it was awaiting a response from the Government. She noted that she would speak to officers to understand whether they had heard anything in recent weeks and would update the Member.


Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience: on the Ravenscote Junior School crossing, Edward Hawkins asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware of how well received it was by the residents in that area and the feedback was that there had been more children walking to school. He noted that through his Members’ Allowance he was assisting the school in the Feet First: Walking Training programme. He noted that it had been a success and provided his thanks.


On the 30% factor added on as a contingency when a divisional Member was asked to commit to a budget for a highways scheme, Nick Harrison asked the Cabinet Member whether Members could be informed on whether that contingency was used or not and if not, could it be available for further schemes in the Member’s division. He noted that it would be useful to have a report on contingency levels and whether they were used. A difficulty faced by Members in selecting schemes for the coming years was that there was a long list of items in the Horizon budget, of which dates had not been fixed. He noted that it would be useful to have guidance on whether by committing to a scheme in a Member’s own £100,000 budget, that would otherwise be factored into the Horizon budget.


On the work of Surrey’s local Flood Forums, Keith Witham asked the Cabinet Memberto thank them for their work and the parish councils that hosted them, he noted the work done by the three Flood Forums in his division looking at over 100 locations where there were persistent flooding problems affecting either the highways or people's homes. He noted two advantages of the forums, that they brought together all of the statutory agencies and the forums were chaired by the respective local MP. 


In response to Edward Hawkins, the Cabinet Member noted that he was aware of the positive feedback, he knew the area well and welcomed the thanks. Responding to Nick Harrison, the Cabinet Member explained that if a contingency was not used, then that money was still available, and Members could ask about their contingency money. He noted that additional guidance could be circulated, however he noted the issue of guidance overload and he suggested to the Member to have a discussion after the meeting on what specific guidance he would like issued. Responding to Keith Witham, the Cabinet Member recognised the tremendous commitment from the staff; highlighting that engagement and partnership working was key.


Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources: on the impact assessments regarding efficiencies which came out very late last year, Catherine Powell noted that there were several issues raised subsequently regarding the changes around Home to School Transport and their impact on vulnerable groups. She asked the Cabinet Member when the impact assessments were likely to be released this year.


On the accounts for 2021/22, Nick Harrison asked the Cabinet Member when he expected those to be signed off, he noted that one of the issues causing the delay might be due to the valuation of investments for which the auditors were awaiting guidance and he asked whether that could be confirmed with a date and whether it was the reason for the delay.  

In response to Catherine Powell, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources noted that the topic had been thoroughly covered in the recent select committee hearings which he had attended, and he noted that the impact assessments would be made available when the budget was finalised. A commitment had been made for next year that the impact assessments would be available with the draft budget when issued. Responding to Nick Harrison, the Cabinet Member noted that he was unable to give an answer at present but would respond to the Member after the meeting.


Cabinet Member for Education and Learning: on SEND support, Chris Townsend noted that he spoke to a head teacher a few days ago about that support in their school, noting that she had no reply to her email to officers on the matter and she said that the SEND support she was receiving was rubbish.He was concerned that if the Council was trying to ensure such inclusion within the schools, those schools needed the support staff to deliver and that was not currently the case. 


In response, the Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that she was happy to speak to the Member on the matter as it was not nice to hear that feedback, she would ensure that the issue would be brought to the attention of officers and would ask the quadrant lead to contact the school in question as soon as possible.


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