Council Finances

Council Finances after a Challenging Year

The EBC Residents Group/Lib Dem Administration put forward for approval a detailed Budget for 2021/22 at the Council meeting on 24th February 2021. This sets out the challenging circumstances the council is facing and the share of this year’s council tax increase which will come to Elmbridge.

“The COVID–19 pandemic has hit all local councils’ budgets, and, contrary to earlier promises, central Government has only covered part of the extra costs and the lost income arising from the impact of restrictions on business activity this financial year. The estimated net cost to the Council in this financial year 2020/2021 is about £4 million.

During the pandemic the council has paid out over £30 million in direct support to businesses, awarded over 100 grants to help independent retailers adapt to social distancing, supported over 25 shops to sell on-line with the Digital High Streets grant and helped launch over 20 new businesses over the last year.

Fortunately, the Administration has been building reserves for day to day expenditures over recent years. As at 31 March 2020, the Council’s revenue reserves (including the General Fund, but excluding Statutory Reserves and CIL funds) stood at almost £23 million, compared to almost £19 million as at 31 March 2016 just before the RA/LD Administration took office.

The Budget for the coming year is a balanced Budget which incorporates over £2.3 million of savings, including a freeze on Councillor Allowances. In addition, like almost all the other Surrey Districts and Boroughs, the share of the overall Council Tax bill will be increased by £5 a year for a Band D property, which equates to an increase of 2.2%. £37.62 of the total increase in your (Band D) Council Tax bill, roughly two thirds of it, goes to Surrey County Council, a percentage increase of 2.5%. £15 of the increase (5.5% in percentage terms) goes to Surrey Police. Less than one tenth of the increase in your Council Tax bill is kept by Elmbridge Borough Council. 

The Administration believes that the Budget for 2021/22 is constructed on a prudent basis which recognises the uncertainties inherent in the current economic situation. While further use of revenue reserves is expected in the coming year, the central forecast is that revenue reserves will not fall below £12 million as at 31 March 2022.

 

Council Meetings: Real or Virtual?

Virtual Council Meetings to end on May 7th

The Local Government Association (LGA), a cross-party body, has responded to the government’s announcement that emergency legislation allowing virtual council meetings will not be extended beyond May 7th.

Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the LGA, said: 

“This decision is extremely disappointing. The Government’s own roadmap out of lockdown states that indoor gatherings or events – organised by a business, charity, public body or similar organisation – cannot be organised until May 17 at the earliest. Yet councils will be unable to hold remote meetings from May 7. MPs will retain the right to participate remotely until at least June 21 but the powers-that-be in the House of Commons will not make time available to legislate for councillors to do the same. 

“The case is clear for the ability for councils to continue to be able to hold meetings flexibly. We urge the Government to reverse this decision and not force councils to have to hold COVID-19 secure face-to-face council meetings until all restrictions are lifted. 

“This also risks damaging the gains seen in public participation in remote council meetings during the pandemic and our vital local democratic process.

“Left with no choice, Lawyers in Local Government, the Association of Democratic Services and Hertfordshire County Council have made an application to the Courts to declare that councils already have the powers needed to hold online meetings. The LGA will be providing support in these proceedings as the representative body for councils.”

 

Councillor Andrew Davis 1956-2021

We are sorry to bring you the sad news of Andrew Davis’s death on Sunday 10th January in Princess Alice Hospice.

Andrew had been a Liberal/Liberal Democrat for over 42 years and councillor for Weybridge on Elmbridge Borough for eight years, first for Weybridge North and then, when ward boundaries were re-drawn, for Weybridge Riverside. He also served in the Council as a Cabinet member, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat group and as the Deputy Leader of the Council.

Many of Andrew’s political activities were inspired by his life-long passion for the environment. This resulted in a number of pioneering initiatives such as Green Transport Week, National Car Free Day, Walk to School Day and 20’s Plenty, several of which gained national and even international recognition.

Gill Smith, one of the Weybridge Focus team and Chair of Elmbridge Liberal Democrats said: “We all remember Andrew as a phenomenal campaigner and an utterly dedicated Liberal Democrat, as well as awesomely energetic and an altogether fascinating human being. We are deeply grateful for his massive contribution to our party’s work in Elmbridge and particularly in Weybridge. We have lost a much loved member of our Liberal Democrat family and he will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.”

  

Wey Road and Round Oak Road

Many residents of Weybridge are beset by difficulties in finding space to park their cars, especially in some of the older streets around Weybridge town centre.  To alleviate this difficulty some streets have sought and been granted on street parking controls, and these residents usually find themselves paying Surrey County (SCC) for a Resident’s Parking Permit.

Currently, and bizarrely, Surrey Highways is now consulting Weybridge residents on a proposal to introduce on street parking controls in two roads where there is no on-street parking congestion.

There is no highways reason for the scheme that has been proposed for Wey Road and Round Oak Road:

  • there is very little on-street parking in these roads, so no need for restrictive controls; 
  • most houses and flats in these roads have ample off-street parking space; 
  • there are no safety issues caused by the small number of cars which do park in these roads.

In short, there is no need for on-street parking controls.

Many of the residents in the two roads concerned do not want this scheme introduced as they have no objection to the small number of cars which do park in these roads. Surrey County Council Elmbridge Local Committee have allowed the scheme to be considered despite the proposal falling outside the normal way of approaching such schemes i.e. via the formal SCC annual review of parking.

The highways officer saw no reason for introducing on-street parking controls, but is bound to put forward a proposal as the Local Committee agreed to consider it. There are other streets in Weybridge that are not being considered despite there being severe parking related congestion.

If you would like to make your views known you can do two things:

  1. Join the “Wey and Round Oak Road NO CPZ” action group by emailing saynotocontrols@gmail.com
  2. Fill in Surrey’s online survey by clicking on this link.  

Write your own reason for objection (question eight in the survey) but, in general, the reason is quite simple, parking controls are normally introduced to meet concerns about the four main parking criteria:

  • Safety
  • Access
  • Congestion
  • Parking stress

Even a casual observer would recognise that Wey Road does not fall into any of these criteria (except at the entrances which have been dealt with already). That is why the Surrey’s parking officers rejected the proposals outright when they undertook last year’s review.

 

The Future of Local Democracy

You may have recently received a leaflet through your letterbox from Surrey County Council headed “Summer 2020”. On the third page you will see that the Leader of the Council (our Conservative Weybridge County Councillor), Tim Oliver, is proposing a major reform of local democracy. 

There is no doubt that the proposed imposition of a single council for Surrey, a ‘unitary authority’, will have been discussed by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, and the leaders of Conservative-held counties. Indeed, Cllr Oliver caught even his own Conservatve councillors by surprise when he announced at Council in July that there would be a re-organisation of local government structures and that “this would be in line with the government agenda” and would require “working with government as it presses ahead with the devolution white paper”. 

While a unitary authority would undoubtedly bring some financial benefits by eliminating the eleven borough and district councils in Surrey that have seen their financial support from central government reduced significantly over the last ten years, the key question is how a monster council serving 1.2 million people would be able to serve the interests of local residents. The SCC leaflet supports the plan by stating that ‘We want a council that gives real power to local communities’.  The Leader, in his statement to the council envisages “A new model of local government, combined with increased powers devolved down to a much more local level” – one wonders how much community power could be asserted, given the size of a single Surrey authority.   

Are the government’s proposals in fact another manifestation of the Johnson/Cummings desire to centralise as much as possible – a trend started under Margaret Thatcher? Is it  a thinly-veiled attempt to eliminate those troublesome borough councils that are not Conservative controlled? If we get one unitary authority across the whole of Surrey it is likely that Surrey would forever be in the hands of a Tory majority. This proposal, however, is not the only way of rationalising the two tier system in Surrey.

Liberal Democrat councillors in Surrey support the development of single-tier authorities across Surrey as the most cost-effective and customer-centric way forward. They note that one county-wide council would be remote and unaccountable. They suggest instead that we should  explore dividing the existing Surrey boroughs into three or four authorities. So, for example, Spelthorne, Runnymede and Elmbridge councils could be combined into a single administrative area taking on all the responsibilities currently divided between the boroughs and the county. 

Full government proposals will be revealed in a ‘Recovery and Devolution’ White Paper on local democracy to be published in early autumn. It looks certain that there will be changes. Please let us know your views. Please also contact Tim Oliver and your local MP so they can gauge the response of residents to their proposals. 

You may also like to join #Residents Against Surrey Single Unitary (#RASSU). You can find out more information at: https://rassu.org.uk/ . You can sign their petition: http://petitions.surreycc.gov.uk/unitary/ and join the campaign:  https://rassu.org.uk/join-the-campaign

 

Vicki Macleod for Weybridge in the Surrey Elections 4th May 2017

On Thursday 4th May, you have a  chance to elect a new councillor to represent Weybridge on Surrey County Council.

Your local Liberal Democrat candidate is long term Weybridge resident Vicki Macleod.

You may know Vicki from her work in our local community, perhaps from her five years chairing the Friends of The Weybridge Centre charity. or as a school governor.

Vicki‘s priority is to give Weybridge a stronger voice for better delivery of the services local people need, including:

  • Better maintained and safer local roads and pavements
  • Local school places for Weybridge children
  • Responsible budget management by Surrey County Council

Many people see Surrey County Council as remote and inefficient with its history of mismanagement. Vicki will work with other councillors to put pressure on the administration for more effective financial management and for budgets that reflect local needs.  Her longer term aim is to see some of the services currently run by Surrey brought into local Elmbridge control.

Read more at elmbridgelibdems.org.uk

 

Gerrymandering

This morning’s discussion at the Cafe One in Baker Street could not help but include the recent inauguration of the American President.

I was surprised, perhaps I should not have been, how unaware British people appear to be regarding the nature of American democracy.  Unlike in Europe, elections in America are often heavily manipulated.  In Europe, where most states have proportional representation, manipulation is almost impossible.  In England, unlike the rest of Britain, we almost exclusively use the first-past-the-post election method and so manipulation is possible but guarded against by the use of an arms-length boundary commission.   Not so in America. The lower house of the America parliament has constituencies and each one elects one member.  To protect the incumbent the political parties change the make-up of the electorate.  If a neighbourhood votes the “wrong” way it is excluded from the constituency and if it votes the “right” way it is included. Over time this produces constituencies with bizarre shapes. The example below. Illinois district 4, shows a constituency that almost entirely surrounds another one.

In some American states the situation is so bad that the state could not pass the basic democratic conditions required to join the European Union.  North Carolina below.

This gerrymandering does not affect the election of the America President.  However, other methods are used instead.  Collectively they are know as voter suppression.  The main types of voter suppression are:

  • Spurious removal of voters from the electoral role
  • Unequal spread of polling stations – poorer areas have fewer stations
  • Misinformation for postal voting – making voters miss deadlines
  • Unequal polling station opening times
  • Unequal voter identification techniques – requiring a driving licence
  • Banning convicted criminals for life
  • Arduous voting registration requirements

Elmbridge staff put a great effort in trying to get people on to the electoral role.  In America there are many organisations that help people to get registered.  However, some American organisations do their best to make sure people never get registered or once there try and remove them.

Some American academics have suggested that the total effect of voter suppression in the recent presidential election was sufficient to change the result in the electoral college.

What are your priorities for Elmbridge?

When the new Liberal Democrat / Residents’ coalition became Elmbridge borough’s administration we set four tasks for our first year – all of which are on target.

 

The municipal year begins in May and in readiness we want to engage with all residents in developing our priorities for next year and beyond.

As part of that ongoing communication we have arranged a meeting for you to share your views and ask questions about key issues for your borough.

‘Prospects and Priorities’ is a public meeting to be held on Wednesday, 18 January at the Civic Centre in Esher.  Elmbridge councillors and staff will be available to discuss the current concerns of residents, from planning to recycling, affordable housing to traffic management. Make sure you arrive early for the drop-in session from 6-7pm, when you can chat informally with councillors and officers, after which, at 7pm, there will be a presentation and question and answer session with Councillor Stuart Selleck, Leader of Elmbridge Borough.

Registration for the presentation part of the evening is advisable because there is a limit to the seating capacity. Email  or call 01372 474 376

British Government orders Green Belt Review

Green Belt CountrysideAs many of you will know, the British Government has told the English boroughs to review their Green Belts with a view to opening land for development.  If a borough refuses to do so then the British government has said it will take direct control.

This has left the Liberal Democrat led Elmbridge administration little option but to revise our own local plan.  We wish to built a broad local approach and the Conservative opposition has been very much involved in every stage of the development.

Before we can agree a new local plan we have to pass though a number of stages and we need you to help in that process so we have published a strategic options consultation.   The document asks many questions and raises a number of issues.

We want to consult as widely as possible and will use every available means to engage with the public.  Part of this process is to have a number of consultations at various stages in the drafting of the plan.  The first drop in sessions will be at:

7pm – 9pm, Monday, 23 January at the Playhouse, Walton
7pm – 9pm, Thursday, 26 January at the Civic Centre, Esher
10am – 2pm, Saturday, 4 February at the Civic Centre, Esher

The events will consist of exhibition boards where the headlines of the consultation document will be displayed.  The evidence base documents supporting the consultation will also be available to review and representatives from Elmbridge’s planning policy team will be on-hand to answer any of your questions.

Your can attend any of the events.  The exhibition will be borough-wide, that is not specific to any particular town.

This process is subject to the agreement to the borough’s council  on Wednesday, 7 December