It has been a busy time in the last 4 weeks with lots to update about life on the Council.
On 19th Jan, I attended a meeting of the Council’s External Partnerships Committee in order to hear from 3 very important local charities namely Alzheimer’s Society, the Camberley Care Trust and Lightwater Information for the Vulnerable and Elderly. These all work to improve the lives of those most in need. My concern is to ensure that public services are “dementia friendly” and therefore that there is better education for town centre businesses and services. We heard there were 16000 people diagnosed within Surrey but obviously much larger numbers who are not. It should be remembered that not everyone with dementia is elderly and that early onset dementia has particular challenges too.
Friday 29th Jan saw a visit to our newly updated Old Dean pavilion in the Rec which looks great. I will be hosting a drop in open session for interested community groups later this month with my Old Dean colleague, Cllr Nick Chambers and borough officers.
Monday 1st Feb was a meeting of the Old Dean Community Group where we were discussing future plans, governance and events. Our particular aim is that we have some laptops designated for community use and these will be available twice a week at the St.Martin’s Church Café.
It was good to catch up with local Labour members and those of other political parties at the Politicos Event on 4th Feb. Well done to the organisers for arranging such a varied panel with lots of thought provoking comments. These events are worth attending if you have never been before and the audience was a real mixture right across the political spectrum.
The next meeting was at the Council Offices of the Governance Working Group. This is basically a small group of Cllrs that look at our Council procedures and constitution. This meeting looked at the procedure for site visits of planning applications, the Cllr IT Code of Practice and our Licensing Committee procedures. This may be at the dry end of politics for some but it is important that we get these right because we soon hear when something goes wrong.
The first weekend in February meant I was in Nottingham at the Labour Local Government Conference meeting up with other Cllrs around the country. This involved a conference dinner on the Friday night hosted by Tom Watson where I joined a South East table of colleagues including Rushmoor, New Forest and Southampton. The Saturday was a full conference day including a keynote from Tom Watson and a concluding speech from Jeremy Corbyn. Some of you may have followed my extensive live tweeting of the event but if not, the main issues were the disproportionate and disconnected cuts that local govt were being forced to undertake. Most of the Councillors attending appeared to have similar views – pragmatically having to make difficult decisions within their own communities whilst remaining fair. It was good that the entire Shadow Cabinet Local Govt team attended including Jon Trickett who spoke at the main conference and Steve Reed who spoke at a number of fringe events.
On Sunday 7 Feb, I visited the Camberley Islamic Centre as part of the national Mosque Open Day. This was a great event well attended and especially welcoming to visitors. The people I spoke with were extremely open about aspects of their faith and were keen to give tours and allow people to watch their prayers including explaining afterwards what they said and why. There was also homemade refreshments and all questions were answered openly and with humour. I sent a thank you e-mail afterwards and hope that events like these continue to build community bridges. It was also good to see other Cllrs and the Surrey Police & Crime Commissioner attending to show their support.
Our Surrey Heath Council Exec met on Tues 9 Feb with most of the items relating to the upcoming Council budget. After extensive lobbying, the Govt at the last minute has decided to give additional grant to certain local Councils which in a remarkable coincidence are mainly Conservative ones! This meant that Surrey County Council which was going to lose around £50 million is now going to lose around half of that. Obviously this will be spun for political purposes as a “listening government” but in reality, the 10 poorest Councils have had cuts around 18 times larger than the 10 richest Council’s over the last few years.
On a more positive note, I am pleased to report that after intensive lobbying by various faith groups, charities and after I had raised it twice in the Council Chamber, Surrey Heath has now agreed to accept some Syrian refugee households. This will be done on the basis of 2 households immediately followed by a review and then assuming everything is fine, a further 2 each year making a total of 10 households over 5 years and likely to be families. These will be housed in the private sector so will not impact on social housing waiting lists. I offered at the meeting to personally visit each of these households to welcome them to our community and ensure that they were linked into local services and provisions of which many are already waiting to give food, furniture or support.
We have our Full Council next week and I have submitted the following topical motion:
“This Council believes that it is in the best interests of our residents and businesses for the UK to remain a member of the European Union”.
I have also submitted a written question requesting an update on the potential implications to our residents of the Planning and Housing Bill currently being debated in Parliament. (which are major for those living in or needing social housing)
Finally, there was a well attended Cllr briefing tonight all about an external review taking place this year. This will be firstly deciding how many Cllrs there should be at Surrey Heath and then after that is sorted, we then get to the tricky issue of examining ward boundaries. The reason why this is necessary is because 4 of our 16 wards are outside the accepted variance of +/- 10% which means some Cllrs are representing many more than others. This review will take many months and everyone will have lots of time to have their say!