Agenda item


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 15 May 2024).  





Notice of thirteen questions had been received. The questions and replies were published in the second supplementary agenda on 20 May 2024.


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


(Q1) Robert Evans OBE asked what discussions the Cabinet Member has had with the other councils, Heathrow Airport and other interested agencies. He asked whether he would encourage those responsible to review the schemes under consideration and the more imaginative options from abroad. He asked for an update back to Council when the conclusions of the work become available in June.


The Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Economic Growth noted that the matter had been debated for several years, hoped that a preferred route would be identified by June that all involved could support. Reiterated that the Council supported the southern rail link - currently the bus service - looking at enhancing that with Heathrow Airport and providing more stop points accessible off the M25 to avoid the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and the airport’s parking charges.


(Q2) Catherine Powell noted that she was unclear what targeted provision was being provided to disadvantaged children and young people, and asked the Cabinet Member to provide the list of schools that had been prioritised for support.


The Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Lifelong Learning reiterated the work underway such as the extension of the early years entitlement targeted at children from a disadvantaged background. She explained that the Council did not have direct authority over schools, schools were the responsibility of school governors or trustees and headteachers. Delivering the Lifetime of Learning Strategy which included the closing of that attainment gap, must be done in partnership with those responsible including the Surrey Alliance for Excellence (SAfE) which oversees the improvement work in schools. Surrey had a large number of children who do less well than their peers in other counties, noted the work in London and the northern Powerhouse working in partnership to address the gap. Noted that she was happy to discuss the work of the education partnership with the Member.


(Q3) Jonathan Essex noting residents’ concerns which included a major house fire on 12 May 2024 in Banstead, asked how Banstead Fire Station and its large Surrey Police owned setting could not be made fit for purpose. In the meantime, asked that the Council accepts the lease extension until 2026 offered by Surrey Police, enabling a consideration of the alternative options and any details shared in the supplementary response be shared on the consultation website.


Robert Evans OBE referred to the response to part d) paragraph 2 that the crews and equipment were moving and the services minimum availability of fire engines would not change. Asked whether the Cabinet Member was aware that a similar assurance was given in Spelthorne that despite the closure of two fire stations and reopening of another, the fire cover would not change; that cover reduced at night. Sought assurance that the fire cover provision would not change for Banstead and that there were no further closures of fire stations or reductions in service to come.


Rebecca Paul thanked the Cabinet Member for meeting with her and Councillor Luke Bennett last week to discuss their concerns around the proposed closure of Banstead Fire Station. As provided in the response regarding Banstead Village, requested the response times before and after the proposals to be provided for Tadworth, Walton, Kingswood, Burgh Heath, Chipstead and Woodmansterne.


Steven McCormick noted concern in the reduction in the number of appliances available at Epsom Fire Station, as an appliance was moved from there to Banstead Fire Station. Regarding the proposed closure of Banstead Fire Station, asked whether Epsom Fire Station would revert to two appliances, if not he asked what the plan was to provide Epsom and Ewell with adequate coverage and how that would be done.


Tim Hall (Vice-Chair) noted that it would be helpful if Members could have a better explanation of the mapping and why Whyteleafe was the preferred location. Asked the Cabinet Member whether there could be a Member Development Session to explain the mapping and how the motorway links in.


Luke Bennett regarding the proposals to close Banstead Fire Station, asked whether it was a proper consultation, and if not what the key objectives of that consultation process were.


Jan Mason recalled that Epsom used to have three pumps, now it only had one. Noted the building of more houses and heavy traffic loads in the borough, sought to ensure that the provision in place for Epsom Fire Station was sufficient. She asked why she had not been informed of the proposals.


The Cabinet Member for Fire and Rescue, and Resilience responded to Jonathan Essex noting that the Surrey Police owned land where Banstead Fire Station was located, was likely to be sold. He noted that Banstead Fire Station was not fit for purpose: there was no yard for the crews to do their drills, there was nowhere to store their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when it was contaminated, and there were no facilities for different genders. He added that Banstead Fire Station did not match the risk of Surrey and where the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) should be. Responding to the Member’s request, he would provide a written response.


Responding to Robert Evans OBE, the Cabinet Member noted that there were no plans to change the provision of twenty fire engines in the day and sixteen at night.


Responding to Rebecca Paul, the Cabinet Member noted that he was happy to provide some additional information, he reiterated that it was about risk and was not based on response times.


Responding to Steven McCormick, the Cabinet Member noted that there was no risk-based evidence to say a second vehicle was required at Epsom Fire Station; the level of risk was based across the county, not on individual areas.


Responding to Tim Hall (Vice-Chair), the Cabinet Member noted that the operation of the dynamic tool could be seen live at SFRS, which showed the location of the risks and how vehicles were moved across the county to manage those risks. He was happy for there to be a Member Development Session on the matter.


(Q4) Catherine Baart asked whether the Cabinet Member could provide more information about how the Council has established that most parents favour the current termly model.


The Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Lifelong Learning would provide that information.


(Q5) Fiona Davidson quoted from NHS England's national framework published in April 2023 about the importance of ‘universal, equitable and timely access to autism assessment in every ICB (Integrated Care Board) is important.’ The risk of poor life outcomes was increased when there were barriers to diagnosis. Asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that the current MindWorks neurodiverse assessment and diagnosis process and practise, restricted and withheld access to an autism diagnosis.


(Q5) Trefor Hogg welcomed the recognition of the impact the backlogs and insufficient capacity were having on vulnerable children and their families. He asked the Cabinet Member and Leader for their help to establish the effective governance of MindWorks that was required.


Fiona White asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that failing to intervene before a child is in crisis would affect that child for the rest of their life. Referring to the evidence given at the joint select committee meeting, she asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that the Council should be expected to demand that MindWorks provide an improved service. The service must be designed to meet children’s needs, the Council should demand that central government properly funds that provision and anything less contradicts the Council’s ambition of ‘no one left behind’.


George Potter noted that one reason why an autism diagnosis was difficult was because many of the symptoms were indistinguishable from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), society overlooked a non-traumatised autistic person. Noted the failings in the education system and society to adapt to people who are different. He asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that the service provided inflicted further trauma on children with autism by preventing them from getting the timely support needed. 


Jonathan Essex sought assurance that the Council would raise the issue with the ICB about the rationing of access to mental health which must end, as it was inconsistent with the Council’s ambition of leaving no one behind in Surrey.


The Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Lifelong Learning stressed that the matter was being prioritised by the directorate, working with system leaders across the health system and partners to resolve it. She agreed with the points made, noting the need to focus on resolving the issues at the earliest possible opportunity for children, young people and their families.


(Q6) Robert Evans OBE noted that since 2021 only around ten percent of the claims for pothole damage were successful, with £190,000 being paid out. Asked the Cabinet Member whether he considered the rejected ninety percent of claims to be fraudulent, and if he did not, asked what the criteria used to judge successful claims were.


George Potter highlighted that the current process forsubmitting a claim for compensation discouraged claimants as it was onerous, requiring multiple independent quotes, exact measurements of the damage to the vehicle, details of the precise time, the weather conditions and the direction of travel. He asked the Cabinet Member whether he would be reviewing the criteria for individuals to seek compensation to improve the rate of successful claims.


The Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources responded to Robert Evans OBE noting that he did not believe that ninety percent of the claims were fraudulent, those claims did not meet the criteria. He noted that the Council has a duty to protect its finances and money raised largely from residents, there cannot be a process that pays out to every claim. The current system was fair, and the criteria were published on the Council’s website, there were no plans to review those.


The Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources responded to George Potter, noting that the issues were complex, the process was similar to submitting a claim to an insurance company. There were no plans to review the criteria for determining whether compensation would be paid.


(Q7) Catherine Powell stressed that the provision of the right places and the right type of places was important. Asked whether the Cabinet Member could provide the reports referenced in her written response.


The Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Lifelong Learning would share those reports.


(Q8) Jonathan Essex referred to question b) clarifying that he sought to understand the road maintenance deficit regarding the amount of money needed to restore the road network up to its current condition, the answer referred to defects. He noted that if it was not currently possible to provide that information broken down between concrete and tarmac roads, he asked for that information to be provided broken down by borough and district, to see the geographic spread. Asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree that it would be useful to create a record of where the concrete roads were across the county, using that information to compare the road maintenance deficit between concrete and flexible roads.


Keith Witham asked the Cabinet Member how there was a fine milling programme without the Council having a record of the concrete roads in Surrey to which it applied.The estimate of between five and ten percent of Surrey's roads being concrete, could equate to several hundred miles, and those were mainly in residential areas and had been tarmacked over which had since deteriorated. Asked whether the Cabinet Member would agree to review the matter, to provide Members with more information about the fine milling process, what was happening where and when, and to liaise with Members who have concrete roads in their division.


The Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Economic Growth responded to Jonathan Essex, noting that he would look to get a breakdown of the cost of bringing all roads - concrete and flexible - up to standard by district and borough. He estimated that to cost between £300 and £600 million across the entire highway network and pavements. Improvements were being seen with the Council’s investment of £76-£100 million a year, potholes and defects were decreasing. Noted that many roads were made of concrete in the north east of Surrey, it was a challenge where those had been tarmacked over. He noted that it was more costly to repair concrete roads and they were noisier, but those lasted longer compared to flexible roads.


Responding to Keith Witham, the Cabinet Member noted that the tarmacking over of concrete roads would be replaced by fine milling, he was happy to share information with Members on their known locations and was happy to schedule a Member Development Session on fine milling.


(Q9) Catherine Baart asked the Cabinet Member whether he couldreview the decision not to include utility works on minor roads in the Roadworks bulletin and for letters and advance warning signage to go out in every case regarding utility works on minor roads.   


The Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Economic Growth encouraged the Member and residents to sign up to - a free service - to get an alert for all roadworks locally. Noted that the Roadworks bulletin did not include any roadworks which were unlikely to cause a level of disruption. There were over 110,000 permits issued on Surrey’s 3,000 miles of road and of the works 70% were utility works, most of the works on minor roads related to broadband works on pavements.


(Q10) Catherine Powell asked the Cabinet Member whether she had any concerns that schools in deprived areas where parents and carers were unable to transport their children, were becoming vulnerable to closure. She also asked whether she was following up with central government regarding changes that might help the Council to support those areas.


The Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Lifelong Learning reiterated that the School Organisation Plan was being reviewed and work with schools was underway about the sustainability of small schools across Surrey. She had attended a seminar with the Executive Director - Children, Families and Lifelong Learning, by the Diocese of Guildford looking at the viability of small church schools. She noted that the viability of smaller schools was a national issue due to the falling birth rate. She noted that the South East region was looking at strategies to address the issue, working in partnership with schools. It was vital for the system to work together to protect small schools, which were valuable community assets particularly in rural areas.


(Q11) Catherine Baart asked the Cabinet Member whether it was possible to detail the cost of the places which were deemed to be prohibitive for families.


The Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Lifelong Learning noted that she would liaise with the service to see whether it would be prepared to share such information with families, noting that there might be commercial interests.


(Q12) Catherine Powell noted that she and the Cabinet Member received an email from the Surrey County Fostering Association (SCFA) overnight regarding the comparison of the contents of the Foster Carers’ Charter published on the website than that presented at the Corporate Parenting Board, significant differences remained. She asked the Cabinet Member to commit to working with her and the Surrey County Fostering Association and the Fostering Service to resolve the inconsistency, as the Charter was critical to attract and retain foster carers.


The Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Lifelong Learning recognised the value that foster carers have to the Council and care system and thanked them for making a difference to children's lives. She had noted her apologies to the leadership of the SCFA for the unfortunate errors which meant that the published Charter had not been collectively endorsed. She would liaise with the service to resolve the issues for the re-published Charter, and to move forward positively with the SCFA. Emphasised the need to celebrate and champion the work of foster carers during Foster Care Fortnight and hoped Members were able to engage with the Fostering Service.


(Q13) Catherine Baart highlighted that the Council had been awarded Bronze Carbon Literate Organisation status and asked the Cabinet Member whether there was an ambition and plan for the Council to reach the Platinum level.


In the Cabinet Member for Environment’s absence, the Leader noted that he would ask the Cabinet Member to provide a response. He believed that the Council has that ambition and would find out where it was on that journey.


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