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 5 July 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 thirty-five questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in the supplementary agenda (items 6 and 8) on 10 July 2023.


The Chair noted that as Kevin Deanus had given apologies, Members could ask supplementary questions which would be responded to in writing. A Member requested that the written responses to supplementary questions to the Cabinet Member be circulated to all Members collectively and in a timely way.


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


(Q1) Catherine Powell asked the Cabinet Member to share the timelines for the review and when she envisaged the plans being presented to the select committee. She noted that whilst alignment with the nationally used terminology had merit, the change would impact Surrey residents who would need to be kept up to date to avoid any unnecessary stress and concern if the specialist placements were to remain the same type of provision as they were.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that she would keep the Member updated with the proposed timeline for the review and would liaise with her about whether that was required to go through the select committee.


(Q2) Joanne Sexton referred to the Leader’s comment about wanting residents to have pride in Surrey’s neighbourhoods and asked why the administration blamed everything on the weather and did not take ownership and accountability by working with its residents to deliver services that they deserve and pay for. She noted that residents in her division were appalled that they had a substandard service and that the Council did not consult with residents and political groups. She asked for assurance that the Council would work with all going forward. She also asked why there was no centralised list of works.


On Kevin Deanus’ behalf, the Leader corrected the Member’s continual comment that there was no consultation with political leaders, noting that he attended several meetings with the Surrey Leaders’ Group where it was discussed in detail. Furthermore, Council officers had several conversations with district and borough council officers. A written response to the other points made would be provided by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience.


(Q3) Fiona Davidson noted that she was surprised and disappointed that when negotiating with NSL there was no benchmarking against the best performing districts and boroughs in Surrey, such as Guildford which produced a significant parking surplus. She noted that she was receiving an increasing number of complaints about enforcement and a lack of communication from NSL, she had been waiting since 11 May for a response to an enforcement issue. She asked whether the Cabinet Member was happy with the current service provided by NSL, both in terms of enforcement and their communications.


A written response would be provided by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience.


(Q4) Lance Spencer asked the Cabinet Member to ensure that the social media material would be made available to Members so they could distribute it to the younger people in their divisions. He asked how long the Cabinet Member expected that it would take to get to the target of 12,000 residents aged 20 years old and under using the Surrey LINK bus card scheme.


The Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growthencouraged all Members to share the link provided in the response to the Surrey LINK bus card and noted that several Cabinet Members and other Members had shared it around social media. He clarified that the 12,000 figure was not a target, the scheme had been budgeted for that amount. It was hoped that every young person aged 20 years old and under would have the Surrey LINK bus card, which the Council was providing free of charge and provided half price bus travel across the whole of Surrey on single and return fares.


(Q5) Will Forster noted that the former Debenhams site in Winchester was now worth £3.6 million having been originally purchased for £15.8 million, he asked whether the Cabinet Member thought it provided value for money.


Jonathan Essex referred to part d) asking whether there was also a requirement to pay business rates on the empty property and if that was the case, how much.


The Cabinet Member for Property and Waste responded to Will Forster noting that the Council’s external valuers had conservatively re-estimated the value of the site at £8.75 million. She responded to Jonathan Essex noting that she believed that there had been a cost and would provide a written response.


(Q6) Ashley Tilling noted that Members’ inboxes were full of questions and comments about the Council’s takeover of the contract for cutting grass verges. He noted that the contractor who used to undertake the contract for Elmbridge Borough Council now operated the contract for Surrey and was ashamed about the inadequate provision of four urban cuts at county level compared to eight to ten at borough level; the length of the grass between the last and first cut needed cutting withagricultural machinery and was a safety concern at road junctions. He sought reassurance that the contract would be reviewed so that the job would be done properly.


On behalf of Kevin Deanus, the Leader explained that there would be meeting with the chairs of the select committees in July to look at the findings of the task and finish groups, to be reviewed by the relevant select committee in September. He noted that the Councillor was an Elmbridge Borough Council Cabinet Member when it took the decision to cease the funding of the service. He noted that the task and finish group had done a thorough job, he appreciated Members’ examples and information provided which would be reviewed and result in a clear process and a revision to the contract for next year. If additional information was required, a written response could be provided by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience.


(Q7) Jonathan Essex referring to the response which noted that it could cost the Council £1 million per year, he asked whether the actual cost saving through reduced fly-tipping from the change could be explored and how the change in the amounts of DIY waste dumped in household bins might reduce. Following the upcoming Cabinet Member Decision to be taken, he sought confirmation on whether the Cabinet Member would actively promote it as an opportunity for residents to better separate and reuse their DIY waste.


The Cabinet Member for Property and Wasteagreed that Community Recycling Centres should be used more for reusing and recycling, she had conversations with the Cabinet Member for Environment about that. She would look into household waste going into rubbish bins that were collected by the borough and district councils, and explained that lots of the fly-tipped rubbish across the county was carried out by workers rather than householders as evidenced by prosecutions. The Council was working closely with its waste contractor to enable more reuse, it was looking at expanding the reuse shops and network.


(Q8) Catherine Baart had no supplementary question. 


Catherine Powell wondered whether the Cabinet Member could provide more details on how the vehicle assets were being maximised as part of the roll out. For example, were there opportunities for addressing some of the Home to School Transport issues and was data being collected on mileage and usage with and without passengers and what was the number of passengers.


The Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growthwould provide the data requested and would share it with all Members. He noted that regarding the trial in Mole Valley demand had increased weekly and some diesel minibuses were used to cope with the demand. There were a lot of benefits such as usage to attend medical appointments as it was a door-to-door service. Whilst it would be a more expensive option, it would enable the Council to meet its ambition of ‘No One Left Behind’ in the rural areas.


(Q9) Eber Kington asked whether the Leader agreed with him that an open and transparent council should provide for easy access to published reports from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) as soon as they are received and via an obvious link on the Council’s website. He noted that was not happening and asked for him to review the accessibility and timeliness.


The Leader explained that whilst some LGSCO reports went to the Cabinet, he would review where the reports were published on the Council’s website.


(Q10) Robert Evans OBE noted that of the figure of 1,292 asylum seekers in Surrey, he asked whether the Leader was aware that over 100 of those were in his division and that had not caused the problems feared initially. Referring to the Home Office’s statement recognising the additional pressures locally to school places, transport and health services; he asked whether the Leader discussed those areas of concern in his meetings with the Home Office and if so, whether that information could be shared with him and other Members whose divisions were most affected by asylum seekers.


Helyn Clack noted that there were around 200 asylum seekers in her division and asked whether the Leader was aware that the Council had a good relationship with the Home Office and Mole Valley District Council to ensure that their needs were met. Also, whether he was aware of the meeting between herself, local leaders, parish councils and the Home Office to discuss further help.


The Leader noted that there were nine Initial Asylum Accommodation sites, three Overspill Dispersal Accommodation sites, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy or ‘bridging’ accommodation across three sites, Afghan refugees resettled in permanent accommodation across the county; as well as the Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) Welcome Programme,Home for Ukraine Scheme and the Ukraine Family Sponsorship Scheme. He noted that the Council had drafted a letter to go to the Home Secretary - under review by the Surrey Leaders’ Group - setting out the concerns and impact in Surrey particularly with the imminent closure of some bridging hotels. Areas affected were highlighted in the letter particularly Horley. He noted that coordination work was underway regionally and nationally.Once agreed by the Surrey Leaders’ Group, he would circulate the letter to Members and would keep Members informed when their areas were affected.


(Q12) Nick Darby regarding the rear fire escape in the Council Chamber, he asked what the escape procedure was for those partially sighted or disabled. 


The Cabinet Member for Property and Wastenoted that her response clarified that when a fire alarm sounds, a visitor or officer with a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) would be contacted by the Facilities Management team directly and would be assisted to leave the Council Chamber.


(Q13) Angela Goodwin asked whether the communications team would be willing to work with Members to develop some communications to encourage residents to cut back their vegetation that spills over onto the public highway.


A written response would be provided by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience.


(Q14) Mark Sugden noted that he was aware of the Road Safety Working Groups which operated biannually in each borough and district, he sought further clarity on what those discussed and who decided the outcomes and how. He asked whether the Cabinet Member could facilitate an onsite meeting with residents on the matter with an officer from the Road Safety Team. He noted that the implication in the final paragraph of the response about action taking at least two years and would be subject to a countywide Integrated Transport Scheme (ITS) bid was incorrect, he would not wait two years for action to be taken and there were various allocations that Members could use.


A written response would be provided by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience.


(Q15) Catherine Powell noted that she was alarmed that regarding the mainstream maintained schools in Surrey the notional budget towards the cost of fulfilling their duty to ‘best endeavours’ was set at £6,000, which was 40% lower than the national average. She asked whether that could be resolved in less than two years, recognising the current pressures faced by schools.


Jonathan Essex asked whether in considering whether the Council should remain with the notional budget set at £6,000 or for it be increased, for the Council to benchmark its performance in delivering EHCPs on time or late.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning responded to both Members explaining that any change of the notional figure of £6,000 per child needed to be agreed by the Surrey Schools Forum. She would raise that with them to see whether that work could be accelerated.


(Q16) Joanne Sexton had no supplementary question.


Eber Kington asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware that residents in his division were advised by Surrey County Council's contact centre that Epsom and Ewell Borough Council had asked the Council to take back verge cutting because Epsom and Ewell Borough Council wanted to spend the money on other priorities, that was incorrect. He asked whether the Cabinet Member could investigate how that false messaging was allowed to be issued and to apologise to the Chief Executive of Epsom and Ewell Borough Council.


A written response would be provided by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience.


(Q17) Lance Spencer noted that it was unfortunate that the roads in Woking were not dry or clean enough to paint the white lines and that had led to a significant nine-month delay. He asked the Cabinet Member to work with the contractors to ensure that the works in Woking would be completed by the end of summer 2023.


Catherine Powell asked how the Cabinet Member intended to address the yellow lines that were approved as part of the 2021 parking review, in her division that had still not been undertaken including some outside a school where there had been a recent incident.


Written responses would be provided by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience.


(Q19) Jonathan Essex noted that he asked the question because no action had been taken through the normal channel of the highways inbox, he hoped that would be remedied rather than relying on the Cabinet Member to intervene to fix temporary tarmac in a town centre for example. He asked whether more could be done regarding the specification sent to utility companies to ensure that there was more reuse of materials like granite blocks. He suggested that the Council and the borough and district councils could work together on individual town locations to ensure that the utility companies get the works right first time.


A written response would be provided by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience.


(Q22) Steven McCormick asked whether an alternative approach to addressing Home to School Transport issues might be required.He asked the Cabinet Member to consider undertaking an alternative root cause analysis approach to provide more school places in the areas of need.


Catherine Powell noted that the provision of school places report did not account for the significant localised housing development near her where there were 8,000 new homes spread across Surrey and Hampshire.The report talks about additional schooling in Ash Manor, however there was no easy bus service between the two. She asked the Cabinet Member to commit to reviewing secondary school places in Farnham to take account of the house building in both Surrey and Hampshire.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning responded toSteven McCormick reiterating that school admissions was a statutory process and was subject to parental preference and choice. She noted that it was not necessarily possible to redesign a school admissions process to take geographic issues into account.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning responded to Catherine Powell noting that she had asked her the same question around a year ago and she arranged a one-to-one meeting between her and the School Place Planning Team; she was happy to arrange for that again. She noted that she had been given assurance by that team that when they did their school place projections, they considered projected future residential development both in the immediate area and across the border in other counties. 


(Q24) Catherine Powell asked whether the Cabinet Member recognised that families with SEND children had been disproportionately impacted by the cost-of-living crisis and that the Council needed to address that going forward.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that the issue had been satisfactorily covered in her response.


(Q25) Lance Spencer asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that the current death rate which had plateaued at around thirty deaths per year and a further 600 serious road casualties per year was too high. He asked whether he supported the principle of targeting zero deaths as put forward in the Vision Zero original motion at the March 2023 Council meeting.


Nick Harrison asked why the report on twenty miles per hour zones had been withdrawn from the agenda of the July meeting of the Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee.


Written responses would be provided by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience.


(Q27) Jonathan Essex asked the Cabinet Member whether in the Adequacy of Consultation (AoC) representation, he would highlight the inadequacy of consultation by Gatwick Airport Limited, covering areas including: the miscalculation of climate costs, the public being misled over the economic benefit, and the failure to properly consult on noise and transport impacts such as replacing roundabouts with grade-separated highway interchanges.


The Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growthagreed that the Gatwick consultation and evidence provided were insufficient. The Council would be writing to the Government to request that they decline the Development Consent Order (DCO).


(Q29) Robert Evans OBE asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware that temporary traffic lights were the source of frustration amongst many motorists, causing more traffic delays than they stopped and blocked roads unnecessarily. He asked whether he had seen cases where pavements were dug up and soil was dumped on the road, he asked for him to review his response regarding permits being granted and Streetworks officers inspecting works, as the wrong conclusions were being made.


A written response would be provided by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience.


(Q30) Steven McCormick asked the Cabinet Member for further help and support in gaining answers to the other questions which he raised on the Chalk Pit issue, but to date had not had any replies.


John Beckett welcomed the reassurance regarding the two Conditions and sought assurance that the appropriate enforcement action would be undertaken by the Council where required.


Bernie Muir noted the problematic handling of the Chalk Pit issue by all three agencies: the Environment Agency, Epsom and Ewell Borough Council and Surrey County Council. She asked the Cabinet Member to state what was being done as a matter of urgency to protect the residents from the noise, dust and vehicle movements on the site; given the recent communications from the site owner and residents.


The Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growthnoted that regarding the extra information requested, all three Members had been invited to a community stakeholder meeting for the Members and residents affected to hear directly from the Council’s Planning Enforcement Team about what was being done. He noted that it was a single operator on a multi operator site and resolving the issues required the Environment Agency and Epsom and Ewell Borough Council to work with the Council.


(Q32) Lance Spencer noted that he asked the same question a year ago and the plan then was to have EHCPs completion back at national levels by May 2023, the current plan was to reach national levels by December 2024. He asked whether that was realistic considering the financial constraints faced by the Council and the efficiencies that would have to be made.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that there was a recovery plan in place to improve the timeliness, that had not gone as well or as quickly as planned. The issue was being revisited to see what additional resources could be brought into the system and more recruitment into the Educational Psychology Service to improve the timeliness. An end-to-end review of additional needs services was also underway. The process would take until 2024 to reach the goal for all EHCPs to be completed on time.


In line with Standing Order 10.12, the time limit of 45 minutes had been reached.Members could ask supplementary questions on Q33 - Q35 via email.


A Member raised a point of order regarding Standing Order 10.1. Mindful of the procedure adopted by the Chair for the current meeting, he requested that officers review how the Council manages original Member Questions and supplementaries in the absence of the relevant Cabinet Member. The Chair agreed that the matter would be considered.


Cabinet Member Briefings:


These were also published in the supplementary agenda (items 6 and 8) on 10 July 2023.


The Chair noted that he had been informed that there was an error relating to Natalie Bramhall’s Cabinet Member Briefing on page 54, the location of Lakeside Primary Academy was Frimley and not Farnham.


Members made the following comments:


Cabinet Member for Education and Learning: on the Council’s failure regarding SEND children’s education and that several young people had not received the education to which they were entitled to, Robert Evans OBE asked what personal responsibility she had.


The Cabinet Member noted that it was distressing to read the LGSCO reports and where fault had been found with the Council that recompense was provided to the affected families; it was right for the Council to acknowledge its failings and for public apologies to be issued - she was happy to do that. She noted that the LGSCO reports referred to situations in the past and that the Council aspired to do better.


Cabinet Member for Property and Waste:Nick Harrison was pleased that settlements had been reached with SUEZ and asked whether the Council would be seeking the grants that were held back by the Government in relation to the waste arrangements.


The Cabinet Member noted that the Council was working with officials from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and hoped to bring that to a conclusion within the month.


Regarding the investments to reduce the impact of hauling recyclable materials over long distances, Jonathan Essex asked whether there were plans to do the same for composting material and have that more locally dealt with across Surrey.


The Cabinet Membernoted that she would discuss the matter with officers and would respond to the Member.


Regarding the Council’s takeover of the Edge Leisure Centre in Haslemere by Facilities Management, David Harmer noted that the Edge Leisure Centre was used by a wider community than what was advised as the local users, he asked how wider local users would be advised on the use of facilities and activities.


The Cabinet Membernoted that Waverley Borough Council took the decision to close the Edge Leisure Centre, Surrey County Council had taken back that facility and was working with the school that has use of that facility to enable them to continue to use it. The groups that had paid their fees to Waverley Borough Council for a year’s membership were directed to them to receive a refund and could be signposted to one of their other facilities. The closure was unexpected and Surrey County Council was pursuing a dilapidations claim against Waverley Borough Council.


Liz Townsend stated that Waverley Borough Council did not close the Edge Leisure Centre and that it had leased the Edge - run by contractors - from Surrey County Council; she welcomed the opportunity to speak to the Cabinet Member about her use of language. She noted that Waverley Borough Council had been in talks with Surrey County Council for a couple of years about the future of the Edge. She noted that Waverley Borough Council already ran another leisure centre in Haslemere.


The Cabinet Memberrefuted the Member’s comment noting that Waverley Borough Council’s officers gave six-months’ notice to Surrey County Council’s officers in January 2023. Waverley Borough Council had a 99-year lease which around a decade ago it was decided that the lease be pulled back to 2023, it was not anticipated that the Edge would close; it was well used by several groups. She noted that Surrey County Council’s Land and Property officers had worked hard to try and come to an acceptable work in progress for Waverley and Hampshire residents, that was not to be so Surrey County Council put in place arrangements for the local school and others to continue to use it.


Deputy Cabinet Member for Highways: regarding the parking enforcement updates to Members in July with an offer to attend a parking task group for their area, Chris Townsend asked when those would be available.   


The Deputy Cabinet Member noted that the parking task groups on a borough basis would begin later in the month and he would ensure that the dates would be circulated to Members.



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