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 15 March 2023).
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-five questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in the supplementary agenda on 20 March 2023.
A number of supplementary questions were asked and a summary of the main points is set out below:
(Q2) Colin Cross concerning the 114 new houses to be built in Effingham, he noted that response stated that there was no consultation process because consultation had already taken place, yet that was prior to the decision and there had been over 900 objections to the previous application. He asked why Wisley Airfield was included in the response as a reason for the new school expansion, as the Wisley Airfield application in the Local Plan already included plans for a new school with 400 places.
The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning reiterated that the response did not state that there would be no consultation carried out - it stated that the consultation was to be carried out by the Trust and not by the Council. She highlighted that the Trust had previously consulted widely across the area. She noted that the reference to the proposed development in Wisley Airfield was to underline the reasons why the school place planning team felt that there was sufficient growth in the population in the vicinity of the school to justify additional places at that school. The Wisley Airfield site would include an additional primary school; the school being referenced was a secondary school.
(Q3) John Beckett had no supplementary question.
Ernest Mallett MBE referring to part (f) of the response, asked whether the Cabinet Member recognised that resurfacing concrete roads had been a traditionally neglected area. Considering that fine milling had been accepted as a possible solution, he asked what alternative technology there was for dealing with concrete roads that were not suitable for fine milling.
Catherine Powell referred to the response that stated that footways to large schools with more than 500 pupils were defined as Category 3 link footways rather than primary or secondary walking routes. With the increased emphasis on Active Travel and the priorities set out in the fourth Local Transport Plan (LTP4), she asked whether the Cabinet Member would consider increasing the category of footways that serve schools, particularly in areas where schools have populations more than 1,000 pupils. She asked how many of the temporary repairs undertaken during that winter had already failed.
The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience noted that he would provide written responses to both Members, and asked them if they could confirm the details of their questions outside the meeting.
(Q4) Catherine Powellnoted that the planning system focused on one application at a time where the use of infiltration and impact on recharging the aquifer was compounded; she sought reassurance from the Cabinet Member that it would be addressed in the forthcoming Climate Change Adaption Strategy. Referring to the response around the categorisation of flood risk that was only used for fluvial flood risk, she asked what categorisations of surface water and groundwater flooding would be adopted going forward. She asked whether the Cabinet Memberaccepted that once the decision had been made to allow the development without infiltration, the ability to recharge any aquifer below would have been removed forever and there would be a lasting impact on water security.
The Cabinet Member for Environment suggested holding a meeting with the Member and relevant team to consider her questions in more detail.
(Q5) Ernest Mallett MBE noted that he found the £400,000 parking surplus that Elmbridge Borough Council claimed to have received to be odd. As the Council would not be maintaining the local green infrastructure when it takes over the work, he asked why it would take it over it as an improvement would not be provided to residents.
Denise Turner-Stewart asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that the Your Fund Surrey Small Projects Fund had been designed with improvements such as vegetation, hanging flower baskets and assets within Surrey’s communities and shopping centres in mind, with a focus on environmental projects and boosting the local economy to equip all Members to work alongside their communities locally and sympathetically with what their residents wanted.
The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience agreed with Denise Turner-Stewart’s question regarding Your Fund Surrey. Responding to Ernest Mallett MBE, he noted that the reason for taking over the verge cutting contract was to bring consistency across the county and because a number of the borough and district councils wanted to hand that power back to the Council.
(Q6) Robert King asked the Cabinet Member to respond regarding approaching local businesses to help a universal roll out of free school meals to primary schools that Surrey maintains and to ask her team to cost that so the budget shortfall could be understood.
The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning presumed that what the Member had in mind was similar to what the Mayor of London had announced recently for a roll out of universal school meals across all primary schools in London. She reminded the Member that all children who were in Key Stage 1/infant schools already received universal school meals. She imagined that the Member was envisaging a roll out across Key Stage 2/junior schools. She noted that she would ask officers to price up the cost of that offer. She noted that the Council’s in-house catering provider Twelve15 already provided universal free school meals across 140 maintained schools, equating to around 16,000 children. However, she noted that the uptake of those free school meals in Surrey was only around 80%, and one in five children who were entitled to a free school meal chose not to. She personally felt that targeted free school meals was a better way of reaching those who needed them than blanket provision. She also noted that schools received additional funding for every child who was eligible for free school meals, which was a vital lifeline of additional funding.
(Q7) Jonathan Essex asked how the maintenance backlog of pavements had changed over the last five years as £200 million was a large amount. He asked whether the Cabinet Member could confirm that aligning highway maintenance to the LTP4 would increase the prioritisation of key walking routes, increasing the funding allocated to improve the condition of poorer pavement locations.
The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilienceexplained that His Majesty's Treasury’saccumulated depreciation formula was used to value the highway network, whereby a cost would be provided for turning the amount of kilometres rated as red and amber, to green. He noted thatbacklog calculations were different, as those factored in some of the repairs which might be rated green, the cost removal therefore of the red and amber rated repairs was higher. He noted that whilst the backlog figure for roads had been calculated, that was not the case for pavements, so the accumulated appreciation figures were used; discussions were underway with the Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth on the potential impact.
(Q10) Fiona Davidson noted that Guildford Borough Council, in common with a lot of other local authorities, had stopped using glyphosate other than where there were invasive species. She asked the Cabinet Member when the Council would adopt that more progressive approach to limiting the use of glyphosate on the premise that currently there were some species that could only be controlled by it, but surely the Council should be adopting a policy to limit the use.
The Cabinet Member for Environment confirmed that the Council did have a policy whereby it only used glyphosate on invasive notifiable weeds and only on hard surfaces across the highways; rigorous training and safety procedures were in place. She noted that alternatives were currently being tested out and included hot foam, hand weeding, high pressure hot water, brushing and the use of vinegar; those solutions were not currently as effective as glyphosate. She noted that there had been a 50% reduction in use of glyphosate across the county and the hot foam treatment showed some good results, but there were issues to overcome such as the high use of water and the fact that it was labour intensive. The Council’s ambition was to stopping using glyphosate but had to balance the fact that people wanted their roads kept neat and tidy. The Council would only undertake one spray at road level in 2023, avoiding the grass verges.
(Q11) Robert Evans OBE asked whether the Cabinet Member had asked anyone at Transport for London or the Mayor of London’s Office for a face-to-face meeting to discuss the matter, ensuring that Surrey’s residents get the health benefits but not the negative impacts from the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). He asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree in principle with the health aims of ULEZ, and whether he was aware that the original idea for the scheme came from the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. He asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware that in other parts of thecountry where similar schemes had been brought into operation, for example Bath, the Conservative Government had picked up the bill for a wider scrappage scheme, covered by point two in his response. On point three of his response around the extension of Zone 6 Oyster Card scheme, he asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware that there had been efforts in several boroughs in the county to get that scheme. They had faltered because His Majesty's Treasury and the Department for Transport would not underwrite South Western Railway or the other railway companies for any losses that they might incur; he asked whether the Cabinet Member would follow that up with the Chancellor.
George Potter welcomed that the administration raised the issue of the Council not being properly consulted concerning ULEZ, he asked whether the Cabinet Member would follow that same approach to his own department's highways schemes across the county such as that which had been imposed in his division last year.
The Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth responded to Robert Evans OBE confirming that the Council had requested a face-to-face meeting on several occasions. He noted that it was disappointing that only the threat of legal action prompted Transport for London and the Mayor of London’s Office to respond. He agreed with the principles and the health benefits of ULEZ, noting that under Surrey’s LTP4 an option was included for the Council to consider ULEZ for Surrey. He noted that he asked the Government regularly for additional funding and he was preparing to speak to the Secretary of State for Transport on the impacts of ULEZ.
(Q12) Liz Townsend asked whether the Cabinet Member could share how she was weighing up the financial costs with the impact of glyphosate on residents and the environment. She noted that many cities in Europe and across the world had banned - some decades ago - the use of such pesticides, particularly glyphosate. She noted that there were several councils in the UK leading the way on a ban, including Waverley Borough Council. Public awareness on the subject had increased and many were calling for a more precautionary approach. She noted that many residents had concerns with the use of glyphosate, particularly near to their homes and recreational spaces. She asked for the Cabinet Member to provide a specific timeline for when she would phase out the use of glyphosate.
The Cabinet Member for Environment reiterated that the Council was only using glyphosate safely on hard surfaces along highways, not near recreational areas. The Council had reduced its use, using only one spray in 2023. She noted that she would await the public feedback around that and how the Council manages it highways in between then. She noted that once the trials on the alternatives had concluded, there would be a cost analysis and decision taken by the Cabinet and officers as to what would be the best way to proceed. She noted that the Council was looking at what other authorities had done, and she welcomed feedback.
(Q14) Mark Sugdenon part (c) of his question, given that the Government parking consultation ended in November 2020, with 15,000 responses, he asked whether the Cabinet Member could ascertain from the Department of Transport when it might publish responses to that consultation and any associated recommendations.
Robert King asked whether the Council would assist Blue Badge holders by recognising a Blue Badge scanner on the Automatic Number Plate Recognition(ANPR) system rather than requiring them to go online to register their number plate, as many carers frequently change the vehicles they used.
The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilienceresponded to Mark Sugden noting that he would liaise with the Department of Transport on the matter. Responding to Robert King, he noted that the Council had asked the borough and district councils for areas where they believed offences had been committed; including where disabled bays were being misused.
(Q15) John Beckett noted that the up to ten working days response time to a Member in most instances regarding parking was unacceptable. He asked whether the Cabinet Member could review Members’ accessibility to the parking team regarding incidents that happen instantaneously. He noted that at his borough council, residents’ issues were addressed by sending a team out.
The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience acknowledged that a number of parking issues were instantaneous, he noted that Members had a phone number that they could call and that their emails were prioritised. He also noted that some issues might stray into policing; things were being done on the matter.
(Q16) Catherine Powell asked whether the Cabinet Member could confirm whether the ongoing additional procurement of energy to waste capacity would be within Surrey and whether she could advise what procurement would likely be reviewed by the relevant select committee.
The Cabinet Member for Property and Waste confirmed that the energy from waste plants would be within the South East, not within Surrey. Regarding bringing contracts to select committees, she noted that it would likely be an item at a future Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee meeting, an item on waste was taken to that select committee yesterday.
(Q17) Robert King thanked the Cabinet Member for his recent engagement with him on roads in his division. He requested further information from the Cabinet Member on how or if value for money assessments within the contract period were carried out and whether there were grounds for the termination of a contract if those were not met.
The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience noted that he would provide a written response.
(Q18) Jonathan Essex referring to part (a) of the response, inferred that the Council does place new people in Adult Social Care placements in homes that were rated as Requires Improvement, subject to checks, but noted that all children were placed in Good and Outstanding rated children’s homes. He asked whether the Cabinet Member couldconfirm that the Council was prepared to place its adults in homes with a lower standard than its children, and whether that was consistent with the “no one left behind” policy. He asked whether the Cabinet Member could confirm that in closing the recent in-house adult care homes, all would be placed in Good or Outstanding rated homes; it was unacceptable for the Council to move people from its homes into private homes that were rated Requires Improvement.
The Cabinet Member for Adults and Health noted that in an ideal world, the Council would place everybody in a perfect home. He noted that the Requires Improvement rating did not mean that the care was substandard or insufficient, and all those homes were independently checked for the individual's needs prior to the placement taking place with agreement sought from the individual’s relatives. No one was put at risk and placements were monitored. He noted that the marketplace did not always lend itself to having every home rated Good or Outstanding, but the Council strived to help them achieve those levels of attainment with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
(Q20) Robert Evans OBE asked the Leader where appropriate, could Members be kept informed of all relevant ventures affecting their division.
The Leader of the Council responded that yes, if that information was available, it would be shared with Members.
(Q21) Liz Townsendasked the Cabinet Member to provide the details of the cut and collect trials and where those were. She asked whether the Cabinet Member could provide assurance that where there were ongoing issues with the grass across the highway and footpaths and where that was causing drainage issues, that would be down to highways to clear up; as opposed to the borough and district councils.
The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience noted that he would provide a written response.
Cabinet Member Briefings:
These were also published in the supplementary agenda on 20 March 2023.
Members made the following comments:
Cabinet Member for Education and Learning: on the third bullet point in the Briefing concerning an additional 200 plus new specialist school places for children and young people starting in September 2023. Chris Townsend asked where the specialist school places would be, for example in specialist schools or in mainstream schools.
The CabinetMember for Education and Learning referred the Member to the report to next week’s Cabinet meeting, which provided detail on the capital programme for the forthcoming year and when that would be delivering additional places. She noted that she had a Cabinet Member Decision meeting next week to approve five different schemes. Most of the schemes that would open next year would be an expansion of the current provision and the opening of additional needs units within mainstream schools; she did not believe that any new schools would be opening around the same time next year.
Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth: on the skills and economy paragraph, Robert King asked how that work interacted with the education offered in Surrey’s technical colleges and the feedback mechanism around local employers and some councils regarding the shortfall in the number of technical skills.
The Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth noted that the Council had a good working relationship with all its further and higher education providers as well as its independent providers. He noted that he and the Leader in January met with all those providers and had regular discussions with the Surrey Chambers of Commerce and other businesses. The colleges were informed of where skills shortages and needs had been identified, Surrey’s education providers were responsive as for example in the case of a shortage of lab technicians, within a year the North East Surrey College of Technology (Nescot) was running a course.