Flooding, General, Investing in our schools, Surrey County Council

Surrey Leader speech to Full Council meeting

Highlights:

  • Without fairer government funding for school places every child can’t be guaranteed a school place
  • Chancellor’s extra investment for Lower River Thames Flood Defence Scheme welcome but councils still have to find £40m
  • Still awaiting news from government on extra investment needed for other flood schemes, including those for River Mole and River Bourne
  • Chancellor needs to offer local devolution to counties as well as cities – “if devolution makes sense for Manchester, it also makes sense for Surrey”
  • Additional £2m investment for “children in need” services

Full transcript (Check against delivery)

Chairman, by now, I hope that all Members will be familiar with this Council’s Fairer Funding Campaign.

It is something that I have spoken about at length in this chamber, Discussed regularly with our Surrey MPs,

And raised persistently in meetings with Ministers. (Even I’ll admit it – I’m beginning to sound like a broken record!)

The message to Government has been simple. Surrey has done more than our fair share to support the country’s economic recovery.

We’ve done everything we can to reduce our own costs. But the growing demand on our services means that we are reaching crisis point. Without fairer funding we simply are not able to guarantee that the residents of Surrey will get the school places, the adult social care, the highways or the flood protection that they need and deserve.

I’ve been strongly supported in this campaign by my Cabinet team, Officers and many Members in this room.

In fact, you could say, it’s been a real One Team effort. Together we’ve put forward some really clear, evidence based arguments to Government.

And I’m delighted that last week’s Autumn Statement revealed that the Government has listened – pledging investment in Surrey roads and flood defences.

Starting with roads –

Over many months we’ve worked to highlight how Surrey’s highways are some of the most heavily used in the country. As a result, congestion is a serious issue – one that affects not only our residents but also the hundreds of thousands of commuters and businesses who travel through our county each day.

We spoke out on this issue and Government listened – with the Chancellor announcing investment for a number of major road schemes in Surrey last week.

These included:

  • Widening of the A3 through Guildford to the Hog’s Back – with improvements to junction safety.
  • Improvements to 10 of the 31 junctions on the M25 – including a major rebuilding of junction 10
  • And a study into long-term options for improving conditions on the South-west section of the M25.

Chairman, I know these investments will be welcomed by our residents for whom we all know roads are a key concern.

Moving on to flooding –

The River Thames between Datchet and Teddington is the largest area of developed floodplain without defences in England.

This means that flooding in this area can cause severe disruption, such as:

  • Major disruption to our road network
  • Affect key drinking water systems
  • Threaten 20 electricity sub-stations
  • And leave over 15,000 homes and businesses at risk.

This Council wants to do everything we can to protect Surrey residents. That’s why we’ve been working with the Environment Agency and neighbouring Local Authorities on our flood defence plans – making a pledge to work together to deliver the Lower River Thames Flood Defence Scheme.

Together, we have lobbied Government heavily on this issue and they have listened – with the announcement last week of an additional £60m for the scheme.

Of course, this still leaves local government needing to find around £40m, which is tough given the pressures we’re facing on school places and elderly social care.

However, this announcement from Government is a step in the right direction – and I want to put on record our thanks to Philip Hammond MP, the Cabinet Flooding lead for Surrey, for his assistance in this matter.

I hope that this announcement will encourage all partners to continue to work together and be clear on just what resources we can each commit to this scheme.

However, when it comes to flooding, there is still more we need from Government in order to protect Surrey residents.

For example, we are still awaiting announcement of funding for the other affected flood areas in Surrey, such as River Mole, and its effects on towns like Fetcham, Leatherhead, Godalming and Guildford and the River Bourne in the East of Surrey.

And I have also written to Ministers to oppose the proposed early closure of the Government’s Flooding Repair and Renew Grant which, if it goes ahead, will have a negative impact on a number of Surrey residents.

However, my biggest disappointment is that Government does not seem to have listened carefully enough to our calls for fairer funding for school places.

Since I spoke about this issue at our last Council meeting, we have co-operated with the Department for Education and clearly demonstrated our funding gap.

It really is hard to ignore the evidence –13,000 extra school places are needed over the next five years as a result of Surrey’s highest ever birth rate – that’s equivalent to 30 new Primary schools.

We are faced with a stark reality – without a fairer funding settlement soon – we can no longer guarantee school places for every school child in Surrey.

Today, I call for Government to show that they have listened to the clear case that we, and Surrey MPs, have made – and to confirm the investment for school places in Surrey that are so desperately needed by children and families across our county.

Of course whatever funding announcements we receive, we know all too well that they will only provide a short-term fix to our demand-led challenges.

Because as demand for our services continues to rise – we need to look for longer term solutions. And I believe that we have those longer term solutions here in Surrey – what we need is the freedom and flexibilities from Government to put them in place.

You will already be aware that as the Chairman of the County Council’s Network, I’ve been leading the call for greater devolution to county areas over the past year. At our last County Council meeting I presented you with our ‘Plan for Government’ – ‘One Place: One Budget’ which I believe will ensure better services for residents at a lower cost.

However, the Scottish Referendum has really brought this issue of devolution to the fore. Opportunities for real change are in our grasp – as proved by the recent Devo Max Deal in Manchester.

The Chancellor said in his Autumn Statement that his ‘Door was open to other Cities who wanted to follow in Manchester’s lead.’

But what about the 23 million people who live in Counties? I believe the door should be left open for EVERYONE.

I strongly believe that the case for greater local devolution is as strong here in Surrey as it is in the big cities.

After all, Surrey has a bigger economy than Birmingham and Liverpool combined – indeed, it also has a bigger economy than Leeds and Sheffield combined!

So my challenge to Government is this:

  • If devolution makes sense for the people of Bolton – why not Guildford?
  • If devolution makes sense for the people of Wigan – why not Woking?
  • And if devolution makes sense for the people of Leeds – why not Reigate and Banstead?

Chairman, in my mind it’s simple – if devolution makes sense for Manchester, it also makes sense for Surrey!

The UK’s economic recovery needs a successful Surrey economy.

We are the fastest growing part of the UK economy and we already contribute £6bn, in income tax to the Exchequer every year – second only to London.

Think how much more we could do if we were able to invest money where it’s really needed and find local solutions to local problems.

In business, you always ‘back your winners’, by investing in your most successful product line or branch, and the profits support the business to grow.

That’s real business sense. That real business sense should also apply to both central and local government as well as other public sector organisations.

Chairman, Government needs to invest in Surrey and support it to grow!

This will then allow us to provide even more money for the exchequer and for the benefit of UK PLC.

Mr Chairman,

I firmly believe that the doors to No 10 and No 11 should be left open to everyone who is ready for devolution.

But in the meantime we will continue to invest sensibly so that we continue to support the people who need our services the most, as we have done throughout my Leadership, in important areas such as Adult Social Care, Children’s and Youth Services, improving school standards and apprenticeships.

We are of course, still in the process of agreeing the five year Medium Term Financial Plan that begins in 2015, which I will present to Council at our budget meeting on 10 February 2015.

However, I’d like to take the opportunity today to announce an investment in a key area.

Two years ago we established a reserve fund that could be used if we continued to see the growth in demand for services for vulnerable children and young people.

That demand has continued to grow particularly for Children in Need – the group whose needs fall below the threshold for child protection.

Today I am announcing an additional £1million investment for each of the next two years to increase the support to these children in need.

From the outset of my leadership I have always been clear that vulnerable young people are a key priority for us.

And despite the huge pressures on us, I am adamant that we should always prioritise work to ensure children are safe as possible.

That is why I want to make this investment now and I hope all Members will support this important investment decision.

Mr Chairman, let me end by saying that we have had a tough but rewarding year. We all know that the years ahead will present us with further challenges and difficult decisions. At the centre of everything we do for our residents; is our dedicated and loyal officer team and all of you; Surrey’s front line Councillors.

I would like to thank all of our staff and you , the Members for your hard work and commitment you have provided to our Surrey communities during 2014.

May I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a very happy, healthy and peaceful new year.

Thank you.

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