Agenda item


1.      The Leader of the Council, the Deputy Leader 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 4 October 2023).


2.          Cabinet Member and Deputy 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-one questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in the supplementary agenda (items 7 and 9) on 9 October 2023.


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


(Q1) Keith Witham asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that the information regarding Project Horizon should be made available by division on the Council's website and that information should be kept up to date with both current and future works undertaken.


Will Forster asked the Cabinet Member to explain the difference in the percentage of resurfacing on roads to pavements, was it the case that Surrey's pavements were in better condition than roads; or were pedestrians being short changed.


The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience explained that the Council’s website contained information on the Project Horizon programmes listed. He noted that Surrey’s pedestrians were not in a worse position than road users, roads and pavements were regularly inspected.


(Q3) Catherine Baart asked whether the Cabinet Membercould confirm that in budget consultation surveys from now on there would be a separate option for climate change.


The Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources confirmed that would be the case.


(Q7) Mark Sugden asked whether the Cabinet Member could confirm the number of children attending private schools in Surrey and what percentage they represented of total children attending Surrey schools. He asked whether top line information could be provided by division.


Robert King requested data on children who attend Surrey independent schools that do not live in Surrey and travel into the county.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning confirmed that the Council knew how many children there were enrolled at independent schools in Surrey, there were over 150 independent schools across the county. She would liaise with the service to provide the information requested.


(Q8) Jan Mason noted that Surrey’s firefighters were brilliant. She noted that in her 22 years of service at the Council there had been cut backs to the SFRS. She stressed that the Council had a responsibility to deal with the inspection outcome properly, she asked whether the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member felt the inspection report had nothing to do with the Council. 


The Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Community Safety recognised the Member’s commitment to SFRS. She noted that this year saw an unprecedented uplift in the budget of SFRS, there was full establishment with a highly motivated and skilled workforce. The Council welcomed the report from His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). Feedback had been received prior to submission in relation to the Cause of Concern Action Plan which indicated that the contents met the requirements of the Inspectorate. The report highlighted the areas where SFRS needed to focus on and the successes within the context of a challenging environment. SFRS was progressing the improvements set out in the inspection report. SFRS was good at keeping people safe and had a robust response system. Under the leadership of Chief Fire Officer and his senior leadership team, the work focused on dealing with the most challenging issues such as improving the culture of the service, addressing misconduct and ensuring every member of staff felt welcomed and valued without fear of discrimination or bullying. Other fire and rescue services were looking to SFRS for guidance. She welcomed the regular scrutiny through the select committee.


(Q9) Ashley Tillingnoted that he had been a victim of the poor MySurrey roll out by not having received his Member’s Allowance since being elected in May.Many people, schools and other organisations had been affected by that new IT system. He asked why the new IT system was not properly tested before it replaced the previous system, to prevent the costly and lengthy remediation measures currently taking place.


The Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources clarified that the new system had been tested, in that testing process the team tried to identify all potential issues, due to its complexity there were unanticipated issues. The situation concerning payroll had been regrettable, apologies had been sent and work was underway to resolve the problems around delayed and incorrect payments. He explained that the problems that were experienced in September related to leavers and joiners, most people who were impacted had received emergency payments. Work was ongoing to ensure that the October payroll runs as smoothly as possible, the team was working closely with the schools and employees affected.


(Q10) Hazel Watson asked the Cabinet Member how temporary was temporary and what was the timescale for replacing temporary premises with permanent premises.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning explained that the temporary accommodation was short term for a term or possibly longer in the context of a building project. She noted that there were other schools where temporary accommodation was kept for longer periods. Regarding the thirty-four projects the team was currently working on to deliver over the next couple of years, some of those had temporary solutions which had been planned for, to be in place until the construction of the final building. She would be happy to discuss any schools with the Member where she was concerned that there were temporary buildings in place for a long time.


(Q11) Will Forster had no supplementary question.


George Potter sought an answer to part a) as the response simply stated that areas that ‘require improvement’ did not necessarily mean that things were worse than last year; thequestion was whether having seven areas requiring improvement was considered good enough. Regarding part b) he asked whether the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member was willing explain to the Leader that a tall buildings policy being published in January next year was not the same as having one in place currently.


The Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Community Safety noted that regarding part b) there is an existing tall buildings policy in place which had been reviewed, a revised policy would be published in January 2024. Regarding part a) she noted that her responses to Q8 and Q11 referenced the interview with the HMICFRS Inspector, it was important to hear his view of SFRS; he said unequivocally that the SFRS had improved consistently over three inspections. The main issue was culture and needed to be addressed before other issues could be addressed - the inspection took place six months ago. She noted that SFRS had an outstanding culture, other fire and rescue services were looking to SFRS to improve their culture, that had been a priority for the service led by the Chief Fire Officer; all the other improvements were being carried out. The Inspectorate’s feedback was that it was satisfied with the proposed plan which would be submitted tomorrow.


(Q12) Stephen Cookseynoted that it appeared that from the information provided one of the main reasons for the delay was the retention and recruitment of staff, he asked the Cabinet Member whether those teams were now fully staffed.


The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience noted that the retention and recruitment of staff was difficult, especially when competing against the private sector which could offer more money. He would liaise with the Highways team to provide a response around whether those teams were fully staffed.


(Q13) Catherine Powell asked the Cabinet Member what additional support would be provided to Family Voice Surrey as it has been working extremely hard during the challenging times and had been put under significant pressure.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning clarified that Family Voice Surrey (FVS) was the county’s independent parent carer forum, it was an independent charity and must remain so. She noted that she was aware of some parents who did not feel that the parent carer forum could sufficiently represent their views because of the close working between it and the Council, and would like it to be further distanced from the Council. She was therefore unsure whether further support from the Council would be welcomed by FVS, she would ask FVS’ Chief Executive.


(Q15) Keith Witham noted that regarding getting a simple black and white directional sign, asked whether the Cabinet Member could ask the relevant officer to reinspect the location alongside him, the chairman of the community shop and a parish council representative.


The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience noted that he was happy to arrange that.


(Q16) Jonathan Essex referred to the first table in the response which showed that there had been an increase of 350 non-maintained and independent school places over that three-year period with a unit cost for each which was 2.5 times more expensive than those provided by the Council in state provided specialist provision. He asked whether that data could be reviewed and for the Council to reconsider whether there was an opportunity to expand its programme to provide more special places for additional needs children. He noted that the special school places were more expensive in terms of the unit increase in Home to School Transport costs than that provided in mainstream schools due to a greater distance. He requested whether the costs for Home to School Transport could be split between state and non-maintained provision, to see whether the shift to the Council providing more in-house places would save money on Home to School Transport.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning noted that the Council recognised some time ago that one of the reasons for the huge pressure on the High Needs Block was that the county had disproportionately more children with special needs in non-maintained independent special school places than others, often in places far from home which was reflected in the high Home to School Transport costs. There was an urgent need for the Council to invest heavily in its maintained specialist provision and that was underway. She referred to the information in her Briefing that set out that by September 2023 the Council had opened 230 new specialist places and teams were working on 34 projects to take the total number of specialist maintained places up to 6,000 by the end of 2025/26. She agreed that it was imperative that the Council continues with its ambitious programme of capital investment in specialist maintained places, she would ask the team in the Home to School Travel Assistance service whether in future they could split out the spending between those children in state maintained provision and those who were in non-maintained provision.  


(Q17) Catherine Baart highlighted the steep upwards trend of paying out for flood damage. She asked the Cabinet Member whether a table could be provided to Members of all the sites and the problems that made up that £110,000; and what was being done or had been done to avoid repeated flooding at those sites broken down by division.


The Cabinet Member for Environment reiterated that the £110,000 was not indicative of the date the incidents occurred, the legal cases and the conversations took place over time and that could be explored further with the Member. She noted that at present she did not want to commit to asking officers to do a large piece of work, however they could provide a list of the issues per division. Solutions were being considered and a flooding strategy was being created. She noted that the team was exceptional and would be happy to invite the Member to meet with them to discuss the matter.


(Q20) Ashley Tilling had no supplementary question.


Robert King asked the Cabinet Member whether Members could get premium access to crash maps, Members could access the free service, but that only showed the individual accidents and not the police reports and the reason behind those accidents.


The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resilience would find out whether that would be possible and would liaise with the Member.


(Q21) Catherine Powell noted disappointment that no report would be issued as it was a missed opportunity for continuous improvement. As the Cabinet Member accepted that the decision not to collect cuttings was an economic matter rather than an environmental one, she asked whether the Cabinet Member could commit to updating the messaging to residents to reflect that. As there would be no policy changes regarding the maintenance of footways or cycleways, their use deterred by vegetation that could not be covered by the divisional Member Highway Fund allocation of £7,500, could the Cabinet Member advise when the maintenance strategies would be aligned with LTP4. Regarding development and Highway wet spots she had an example in her division which was contrary to the Cabinet Member’s response and would email him.


The Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Resiliencenoted that the rationale was not just economic, but also was based on the impact on the carbon footprint of having vehicles travelling around. He welcomed the Member to detail her questions and would provide a written response, copying in the new Cabinet Member.


(Q24) Catherine Baart asked the Cabinet Member whether it would be possible to have a table outlining what was happening with each hospital in Surrey on Active Travel and improving the use of public transport.


The Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growthwould see what information could be provided as hospitals commissioned their own public transport too, for example Ashford and St Peter's Hospitals would have an improved public transport service between them thanks to a campaign by the Council and the MP for Woking. Whilst hospitals acted as their own entity, the Council did engage with them.


(Q26) Catherine Powell noted that based on her correspondence with the National Autistic Society she was confused as her understanding was that before the recommissioned services were introduced in April, it was providing two youth clubs, two children's clubs and holiday outings. However now they were only able to fund one youth club for the whole of Surrey in Godalming, which was forty minutes or more from large areas of the county. Was the Cabinet Member advising that the situation had changed and more funding had been provided.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Learningwould liaise with the Member outside of the meeting.


(Q30) Jonathan Essex noted that as it was confirmed that there was no match funding, he asked whether the Cabinet Member could confirm how much funding the Council was providing for each of the Digital Demand Responsive Transport (DDRT) areas and how much it would cost if that was to be rolled out county-wide.


The Cabinet Member for Transport, Infrastructure and Growth noted that it cost around £100,000 per DDRT bus, rolling the service out county-wide would cost around £12 to £16 million. The Council was already subsidising buses at over £10 million a year and would look to reuse some of that because it would be providing a more enhanced convenient and cheaper service. He noted the additional £7.9 million funding awarded to the Council from the Government, some of that would fund DDRT and the Surrey LINK bus card scheme with half price bus fares for young people in Surrey aged 20 and under. That funding was on top of the Council’s £49 million broken down to: £32 million for the decarbonisation of buses including 32 hydrogen buses with Metrobus, £6 million for electric minibuses for community transport, £9 million for the bus priority measures and £1.4 million to expand the real-time information displays. The county was the only one working with bus operators to decarbonise their fleets.


Cabinet Member and Deputy Cabinet Member Briefings:


These were also published in the supplementary agenda (items 7 and 9) on 9 October 2023.


Members made the following comments:


Deputy Cabinet Member for Highways: on parking and enforcement, Chris Townsend noted the minimal enforcement by the new team in his division. The repainting of the yellow lines did not happen often, since Aprilonly had two repaints had been done; he asked why little was happening. 


The Deputy Cabinet Member wassurprised as the feedback he had received, and what he had seen on the ground was that there were more parking enforcement officers than ever on Surrey’s streets. The statistics also showed that more penalty charge notices were being issued than ever. He asked for the Member to email the location he was referring to and would ask NSL to provide the figures and would put him in touch with the local parking enforcement team.


Cabinet Member for Education and Learning: on Home to School Transport, Helyn Clack noted that this time last year the Leader apologised for the problems that occurred regarding Home to School Transport. There had been a massive improvement since then, she congratulated the Cabinet Member and the team for their work. She noted that she did not have the same problems that she had last year and issues were resolved quickly. She asked what the one significant issue was that the team overcame to ensure the improvement in Home to School Transport this year.


The Cabinet Member thanked the Member for recognising the significant improvement in the Home to School Travel Assistance service, a much better service had been delivered this year for children and their families. She noted that there was not one thing that was done, there had been many recommendations from the reports into the team, an end-to-end process review, a restructure of the team, recruitment and training, careful management and procedures introduced, and more resources invested. She was confident that the team would build on the progress made; she would pass on the Council's thanks to the staff that led the improvement work.


Jonathan Essex on the scale of investment in special school places going forwards, asked if it would be possible for the Cabinet Member to provide information on how the increased capital spending there was likely to reduce revenue spending in future.


The Cabinet Member was happy to provide that information. She noted that she reported to the Cabinet regularly on the progress of the capital programme on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in partnership with the Cabinet Member for Property and Waste. She noted that every maintained specialist school place that the Council provided had a revenue impact greater than £20,000 a year; another reason why the Council needed to invest that scale of capital into its SEND programme.


Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources: on the arrangements to cover the £24.4 million deficit forecast, Nick Harrison asked the Cabinet Member to what degree was that covered by contingencies in either the current year or brought forward reserves. Noting that the payroll difficulties concerning MySurrey caused consequential impacts on the processing within the pension section, he asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware of that and was paying attention to that.


The Cabinet Member noted that regarding funding the deficit, the Council had a £20 million contingency budget which was included in the 2023/24 budget; there had also been a review of its reserve position which had significantly improved over the last five years and some of those reserves would be used sensibly. He noted that the Cabinet had agreed to make some additional investment to enable the improvement of the delivery of the Council’s services. At the same time directorates were continuing to look for efficiencies to close that gap. Regarding the payroll there were teething problems, he and the team were fully aware of the issues, those were being taken into account to ensure the provision of a professional and accurate payroll system.


Cabinet Member for Property and Waste: on the agreements with SUEZ and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Nick Harrison was pleased to note those. However, he expressed disappointment that the Council was having to deal with 150,000 tonnes of residual waste outside of the current network, it was disappointing that the energy from waste plant was not built with sufficient capacity when that decision was made several years ago. 


The Cabinet Member noted that it was good news regarding Defra that a positive conclusion to the negotiations had been reached. Regarding the 150,000 tonnes of residual waste, in 1999 when the contract was signed the Council was to deliver two energy from waste plants; unfortunately it could not secure planning permission for the second energy from waste plant. She was pleased that officers were bringing forward plans for another mixed recycling facility in the county, the Land and Property team had identified a potential site to deal with that residual waste.


Bernie Muir left the meeting at 11.50 am.


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