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 13 March 2024).


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 eighteen questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in the supplementary agenda on 18 March 2024.


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


(Q2) Catherine Powell asked whether the Cabinet Member believed that there was an opportunity for better working with the Council’s partners to consider their solutions regarding shared care records and asked how those services could be promoted widely.


The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care explained that work was underway concerning record sharing and Technology Enabled Care, as well as scrutiny from the select committee. The programme would become clearer as the transformation plan is rolled out, she was keen to engage with the Member on that as it moves forward.


(Q3) Robert Evans OBE asked whether the Cabinet Member had seen the articles by the press regarding the sale of the former County Hall in Kingston, which was sold by the Council for £25 million. He asked whether she was surprised to see that the forecast value was £250 million, querying whether it had been undersold. In response to the Leader who stated that the figurequoted regarding the forecast value was inaccurate, he asked whether the Cabinet Member would clarify the figures.


Jonathan Essex referred to the penultimate sentence of the response around future development of the site and the Council securing ‘any excess of value’, he asked whether the Council would receive additional money.


Steven McCormick referred to the last sentence of the response asking whether the ‘legal charge against the asset’ was time constrained, when would the full amount of the sale be realised; would that information be available to Members and residents.


The Cabinet Member for Property, Waste and Infrastructureconfirmed that the Council sold the former County Hall site for in excess of £25 million. Regarding the Gross Development Value, Savills estimated it to be worth £250 million and so far, the purchasers RER (Kingston) Ltd had spent approximately £700,000 annually on empty rates, they had spent on security and planning application costs in excess of £1 million, interest rates had increased dramatically. She estimated that over £32 million had been spent on the site and that the residual land value with planning permission was between £35 and £40 million. She noted that hundreds of millions of pounds would be spent developing the site, the market was at a low point and the purchasers had spent more on the site than they likely expected. Therefore, she believed that the Council secured a good deal.


(Q4) Jonathan Essex praised the response which highlighted the progress being made in reopening one of the largest libraries in east Surrey. He asked whether the Cabinet Member could confirm that Consort House has full disabled access and how for example, would the library be advertised in the town centre.


The Cabinet Member for Property, Waste and Infrastructure was pleased that the Council was able to transfer the library service from the Harlequin Centre to Consort House. Consort House was Disability Discrimination Act compliant so should have disabled access, however she would check that was the case. Regarding signage advertising the reopening of the library, she would leave that to the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Customer and Communities to liaise with the service.


(Q6) Andy MacLeod welcomed that on-street parking enforcement was back on track and that there was a focus on informing Members about parking enforcement. He disagreed with the explanation for why it all went wrong a year ago due to only twelve Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) transferred from the boroughs and districts, when sixty CEOs were needed. He noted that it went wrong because the transfer process was badly managed, similarly that was the case in the transfer of grass cutting to the Council. He was concerned that there was not a proper focus on change management and asked the Cabinet Member whether lessons would be learnt regarding all transfers handled by the Council.


The Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Economic Growth noted that each time a transfer or change happens lessons were learnt. He noted disappointment that more staff did not transfer over, NSL was recruiting throughout and the amount of CEOs was at the right level and the Council would continue to review their performance. He noted that NSL was only paid when it deployed teams, so it was in their interest to continue the parking enforcement around the county.


(Q7) Lance Spencer noted the immense stress faced by the 125 families with additional needs children who were trying to find a school placement and asked whether the figure would be less in future years as lessons are learnt.


The Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Lifelong Learning noted that this year the SEND service dealt with 1,837 children who went through the under 16 Key Stage transfer process, which was the largest number it has ever managed and next year the number was likely to be higher. She recognised the stressful situation for the 125 families who were awaiting a school placement for their child for September, it demonstrated the urgent need to advance the SEND capital programme to build those additional places to meet the needs of children in the future. Noted the hard work by the SEND admissions team across the different settings, particularly in the non-maintained independent sector.


Jonathan Hulley left the meeting at 11.06 am.


(Q8) Angela Goodwin noted that she had received many complaints about the Council’s poor communication about the on-street parking and visitor permits in Guildford. She asked whether the Cabinet Member would consider working with the relevant team to improve the communication specifically on the website, and in the run up to the renewal letters in late summer for on-street parking and visitor permits.


The Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Economic Growth noted that he always looked to improve the team’s communications. He noted that most people had signed up online for their parking permits and he had asked the team to send a regular email to residents in permitted areas about any changes. Those who had not signed up by email would be written to.


(Q9) Catherine Powell noted that many people were confused by the situation, therefore it would be helpful if the Cabinet Member could provide a briefing regarding what Mindworks Surrey was and was not doing. She asked whether the Schools Forum knew about and had agreed to the correspondence sent out yesterday.


Jonathan Essex asked whether the Cabinet Member could confirm what the current average waiting time was and what the process was of taking referrals that were not being accepted by Mindworks Surrey. If a child had been waiting half a year, once accepted would that amount of time be factored into the date when Mindworks Surrey starts taking all of the cases it was contracted to take.


The Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Lifelong Learning emphasisedthat the waiting lists and backlogs in the Mindworks Surrey neurodiversity service were unacceptable and the needs of neurodiverse children and young people were not being met. Noted that the situation highlighted the difficulty of partnership working with differing priorities, challenges and budgets; Mindworks Surrey was delivered by Surrey and Borders Partnership (SABP). Noted that high demand was a national problem, and the Council continued to work alongside SABP to address the waiting lists. She would ask the joint integrated commissioning team to prepare an urgent written briefing for Members about what was happening with the Mindworks Surrey neurodiversity service. Noted that it was unlikely that the Schools Forum would have been consulted as the matter was outside its remit, the relevant bodies were the different phase councils. She would check and include in the briefing whether schools were consulted on the interim arrangements. She would ask SABP officers to provide information on the average waiting times, to be included in the briefing as well as the alternative pathways for children not currently being seen.


(Q10) Robert Evans OBE asked the Cabinet Member what provisions were in place should weather conditions require grass cutting more frequently than scheduled.


The Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and EconomicGrowth noted that extra crews were on standby if additional cuts were needed. He noted that the number of cuts had increased from four to six in urban areas, with two cuts in rural areas; grass cutting had already started in March.


(Q11) Jonathan Essex asked the Cabinet Member to clarify and consider the number of bus stops needed to cope with the current and future number of buses.


The Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and EconomicGrowth noted that he would provide a written response.


(Q12) Catherine Baart asked the Cabinet Member to confirm that the Council was happy to take no action to address the gap in the provision of the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) from Redhill Station to East Surrey Hospital; and confirm that the Council was pursuing funding from Active Travel England for that. Asked whether the Council was happy to take no action and abandon the bus service to the diabetes and stroke rehabilitation centres in the only borough which has no community transport or Digital Demand Responsive Transport.


The Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and EconomicGrowth reiterated that as Princes Road was private, it was the landowner’s responsibility. Noted that the Council would consider adopting the road should the landowner ensure it meets the adoptable standard and pays the commuted sum; that was currently not being pursued. He noted that the team was looking at alternative routes to address the matter. The Council was maintaining the Town Path part of Princes Road.


(Q14) Robert Evans OBE asked whether the Cabinet Member was disingenuous by not providing the requested figures going back to 2010 as requested, it was for Members to decide whether comparisons were only meaningful for the last few years.


The Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources reiterated that much had changed over the past ten years, those numbers were difficult to obtain and do not provide meaningful comparisons. The response provided meaningful data for the last five years. Looking beyond that, the level of services provided by the Council and the level of grants received were completely different. If desired by the Member, those figures could be provided.


(Q15) Catherine Powell queried the last sentence of the response around recreational verges which were not part of the public highway, she noted that there were such verges that were part of the public highway in estates. She asked the Cabinet Member whether he would reconsider either reallocating the maintenance of those recreational verges currently designated as highway verges or come to another way of managing those, as green spaces were vital to young people’s mental health.


The Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and EconomicGrowth noted that all Members were sent the maps and were asked to review their divisions.Every section of the highways extent would be cut, he encouraged the Member to email him regarding sections that the Members wants reviewing and he would ask the team to follow up. He clarified that the Council would not cut third party landowners’ grass.


(Q18) Catherine Powell sought clarity on how many places had been provided to date under the programme, was it 920 or 1,180; and what was the plan. She asked the Cabinet Member to explain what processes were underway to ensure that the current needs were being met, those needs were increasing.


The Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Lifelong Learning noted that she would ask officers to prepare a detailed written briefing covering the completed projects to date, how many new places had been delivered and had been re-provided and in which schools, and what the future programme was and how it was being reviewed to ensure that it meets the needs of children with additional needs.


Cabinet Member and Deputy Cabinet Member Briefings:


These were also published in the supplementary agenda on 18 March 2024.


Members made the following comments:


Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Economic Growth: on the problems with parking enforcement, Chris Townsend noted that monthly reports were sent to Members outlining parking enforcement data and that now included schools. Having reviewed the reports, most of the parking enforcement was in Guildford and Woking, and not in his division and he asked why that was. Residents in his division reported that they had never seen one of the 65 CEOs, they had contacted NSL reporting that people were parking on yellow lines and NSL responded that a CEO would be deployed; they had never been seen.


The Cabinet Member asked the Member to contact him with particular roads and he would raise his concerns with the team, the Member could also email NSL. He noted that Guildford and Woking had more controlled parking enforcement in place then the Member’s division.


On the transfer of the LEPs’ functions to the Council, Nick Harrison requested further information on what assets were being transferred and for periodic updates to be provided detailing what budgets, functions and schemes the Council has in mind.


The Cabinet Member explained that the Council was working with Hampshire County Council, and Brighton and Hove City Council to determine the assets and monies to be transferred from 1 April. He noted that there had been a recent Member Development Session on the matter, an update with answers to the questions asked would be provided shortly. As the process develops, updates would continue to be provided to Members around what was available. The most significant asset would be Longcross, Runnymede which was an enterprise zone. The Council would also receive loan repayments, and there was a ring-fenced pot of money to support high growth businesses in Surrey.


Cabinet Member for Property, Waste and Infrastructure: contrary to the Cabinet Member’s previous comments in response to question three, Robert Evans OBE noted that the former County Hall building in Kingston had been granted planning permission, Kingston Council's decision in September 2023 reference 21/03939/FUL. He asked whether the Cabinet Member would correct her earlier statement.


The Cabinet Member noted that she had been informed that planning permission had not been granted, she noted that the conditions might yet to have been cleared. She noted that the Council had made the correct decision to dispose of the building which was not in the county.


Edward Hawkins asked the Cabinet Member to confirm how many extra care units and other units there were for vulnerable and elderly adults, as well as the number of children's homes in the pipeline.


The Cabinet Member would provide a written response to the Member once she had spoken to the relevant Cabinet Members.


Cabinet Member for Environment: on the Surrey Local Nature Recovery Strategy, Helyn Clack noted that Members representing rural areas were becoming more aware of the new strategy and the consultation underway. She asked how the Cabinet Member would be engaging further with Members on the strategy.


The Cabinet Member noted that the Council was working with other local authorities, residents and interested parties on the implementation of the strategy. Work was underway measuring and monitoring the current provision to understand how nature and biodiversity could be improved across Surrey, baseline data was starting to be collected. Other related pieces of work would link into the strategy, covering biodiversity net gain, land management concerning crops, and recreation. She would provide an update in her next Cabinet Member Briefing to the Council. 



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