I have now started to do some regular updates to our Labour members in Surrey Heath to explain a bit more about the role of Cllr so here is a slightly adapted version of this month’s report for the wider public.
On Mon 30th November, I attended the Old Dean Community Group which is a small network of officers and residents. At this, we said goodbye to our excellent community officer, Andy Draper, who has worked hard over a number of years especially with the annual fun days.
The next day, I had a meeting with the Borough Chief Executive. These are an opportunity to raise issues and discuss them frankly and confidentially in my capacity as group leader. Whilst I can’t therefore go onto detail, issues I raised were the temporary closure of Camberley Library, Camberley Town Centre and leisure centre, resourcing of planning enforcement across the borough and Syrian refugees (which have still not been agreed yet at Surrey Heath)
Immediately afterwards was a meeting of the Council Exec where the main item was the Council Mid Year report. This mainly involved a lot of self congratulatory flannel including showing a video of achievements so far this year. Whilst it is right to celebrate success, a mid year report should also prominently include areas that are less good or lessons learnt. I therefore asked why these were missing and also that there were far too many irrelevant areas being reported. The red areas (off target) were the theatre café income, responding to complaints in 10 days, self service usage at customer contact centre, households in temporary accommodation and length of stay. We also had a report highlighting officer shortages in Planning and there is only one Planning Enforcement officer. I therefore made the point that unless we get more enforcement, applicants could basically ignore the application system as it would be unlikely that anything would be addressed.
On Thursday 3 December, I had the pleasure of meeting the leader of Eastleigh BC who was conducting a peer review of Surrey Heath BC. We discussed a number of areas such as poor financial budget setting and lack of affordable housing built. His team were interviewing officer and Cllrs and it would be interesting to see their final report.
On Tues 8 Dec, I attended a very brief meeting of the Town Centre Working Group looking at forward plans. Again, our working groups are confidential so can’t say more just yet.
Later that week was the Surrey Heath Local Area Committee. There were several petitions that were presented including lights at Frimley Green and a request for a traffic crossing in Portsmouth Road outside the hospital. A review of the A30 bus lane will now be considered as part of a wider review of the town centre. I also spoke about the poor handling of the temporary Library closure and the apparent lack of vision that a temporary small facility with computers had not been put within the council offices.
The final Full Council of the year took place on Wed 17 Dec and during the question time to the Finance Portfolio Holder, I asked the following question, “At this time of year when we are thinking of those less fortunate than ourselves, what is the Council going to do to address poverty within the borough? After a long silence, the answer was that he would consult with colleagues. I will try and get this formally onto Council agendas in the New Year. At the Christmas social afterwards, it was good to meet the Surrey Heath Young Mayor from Collingwood , their deputy from Gordon’s and their parents in a positive venture by the current Mayor.
The last meeting was the following evening’s Audit Committee which sounded dull in advance. However, it was livened up by the unexpected appearance of our external auditors who were basically there to say they could not sign off the Council accounts. After officers tried to blame a new IT system, the auditors made clear that there were more fundamental issues relating to resourcing. In 12 years as a Cllr, I had never seen any auditors speak in this way. I asked for a full report at our next meeting as to how this has happened and this was agreed by the committee. We also had a report about the local govt settlement announced by the Govt earlier that day and the rupture impact this will have.
Finally, I would like to wish all Surrey Heath residents a merry Christmas and happy New Year.
Cllr Rodney Bates
Lab Cllr for Old Dean