SURREY County Council leader Tim Oliver has seemingly admitted defeat in his bid to abolish the county’s boroughs and districts, in favour of one ‘mega council’.
The government was next month expected to announce the biggest shake-up to local government structure in 50 years – with Cllr Oliver writing to local government secretary Robert Jenrick in July to advance Surrey’s bid to become an all-encompassing unitary authority for the county.
However, in a leaked email to fellow Tory councillors, Mr Oliver wrote: “Robert Jenrick indicated on Monday that No10 were not prepared to progress a local government restructuring as part of the devolution White Paper. Some may see that as a U-turn.
“I have asked Jenrick to confirm what the position is regarding Surrey and we are asking some of MPs to find out but as far as I am concerned this effectively kills our bid (and that of the districts and boroughs).”
He added: “I will confirm the position for definite if and when Jenrick answers my letter but quite why this government keeps starting fires and then walking away I really don’t know.
Cllr Oliver has since clarified in a further statement that he expects “a government White Paper on recovery and devolution will still be published in the coming months” – adding in regards to Surrey’s unitary bid that the county has so far received “no instruction from the secretary of state, either to proceed or to stop work on this”.
But his leaked comments have already been leapt upon by Waverley Borough Council’s Lib Dem deputy leader Paul Follows who, while hailing the apparent death of Surrey’s breakaway bid, has lamented the wasted taxpayer cash spent on developing, and fighting, the county’s proposal.
Cllr Follows said: “The Waverley Lib Dems co-sponsored the motion to oppose the Conservative Surrey plan at Waverley, a plan that went out of its way not to consult residents or any of the boroughs and districts of Surrey.
“The Surrey plans also made, and Jeremy Hunt MP repeated this frequently, bizarre claims that towns and parishes like Farnham and Godalming might end up with planning powers.
“Not only have towns and parishes in Waverley had no consultation from Surrey on this either, the idea runs contrary to the reckless centralisation agenda for planning that the government is also trying to force upon local communities.
“Surrey was in dire need of change even before this, and I hope residents will use their power to deliver that change in the elections which will now take place in May next year.
“The Surrey Lib Dems are extremely keen to know how much taxpayers’ money has been wasted on this attempted power grab – in real money, in officers’ time and, of course, the time and expense the boroughs and districts have had to incur trying to fight this.
“If Surrey had spent less than £250,000 on this I would be very surprised, but we will be asking that question on behalf of the residents of Surrey at the first formal opportunity.”