A motion by Conservative opposition councillors at Waverley Borough Council calling for the authority’s immediate divorce from crisis-hit sister council Guildford has been roundly defeated.

The motion was put forward by Tory members Peter Martin (Godalming Holloway), Michael Goodridge (Bramley & Wonersh) and Carole Cockburn (Farnham Bourne) at last week’s Waverley full council meeting.

It resolved to “review the collaboration arrangements with Guildford Borough Council with an intention to seek an orderly termination of those arrangements”.

However, after a long debate with members queuing up to speak, it was resoundingly defeated by 35 votes to nine – with the council’s Lib Dem, Farnham Residents, Green and Labour members voting it down.

It came just a week after a similar Tory motion was voted down at Guildford Borough Council.

Responding to the Waverley divorce motion, the borough council’s executive member for finance, Mark Merryweather (Lib Dem, Farnham Moor Park), emphasised the financial challenges faced by local governments since 2010 caused by cuts by the Conservative central government.

He pointed out that the opposition group, during their last term in power at Waverley, tasked a Budget Strategy Working Group with a “radical” re-think of how the council’s services were delivered.

“While it proposed some conventional – and finite – cost savings and income generation measures, it was deafeningly silent on the subject of local authority collaboration,” said Cllr Merryweather.

“That was despite the mounting evidence from local authorities across the country – and even the encouragement and support of the government – that all clearly signposted collaboration as something a responsible administration should have been considering.”

Cllr Merryweather laid out measures taken by the current Lib Dem-led administration to balance Waverley’s budget, and added the opposition “have offered nothing – nothing – by way of alternative budget strategies or proposals”.

“It’s against that background that our measures have included the collaboration with Guildford, which in financial terms alone is still on target to deliver £700,000 annually in recurring savings by 2025/26,” he said.

Waverley’s back-office merger with Guildford was introduced in 2021 as a way of saving money across the two councils. However, the staff-sharing arrangement has been rocked in recent months after the councils’ joint chief executive and executive head of finance quit their roles.

Guildford is also tackling a projected £18 million budget gap over the next four years and narrowly avoided declaring bankruptcy earlier this month. 

Meanwhile, a fraud investigation in its housing department is under way, and its leader faced a no-confidence vote this month amid claims she had “presided over two major financial scandals”. Councillor Julia McShane (Lib Dem, Westborough) survived the Conservative-led vote, with 24 councillors backing her to 15 against.