Here is my latest Cllr diary from the last few weeks.
On Tuesday 15th March, I met up with the 3 other non-Conservative Councillors in Surrey Heath mainly to discuss the forthcoming electoral review for the area and catch up on local news from the various committees. Although there is no Group “whip” as we represent three different parties, we do informally keep each other updated and sub for each other on Council meetings to ensure there is always an opposing Cllr present.
The next morning, I had a local duty by attending the Advisory Board meeting of our Childrens Centre in Old Dean. This is such an important community resource for local families and the Old Dean Centre does a great job. Our main challenge is actually trying to make links with families that live outside the Old Dean but within the catchment area (for example in Camberley Town Centre) as their contact rates within the Old Dean are high. This is such a lifeline for parents particularly those who have other life challenges and make such a difference.
During that week, I also met up with the Windle Valley Youth Project over a coffee for an update and attended a meeting of the Governance Working Party at the Council Offices.
Easter Week was quieter but on Tuesday 22nd, I attended the Borough Council Executive. The main items of discussion were the awarding of some community grants and to submit a borough response to some Government proposals on Planning changes. It was clear that the local Conservatives did not think much of these Government ideas for example the idea of “competition” for some planning applications via “Approved Planning Officers”. The big concern here is that if these external planning officers could bid for certain applications, the Council would then have to resolve their recommendations within a very short time (perhaps 1 or 2 weeks) thus negating the role of local Cllrs in planning committees.
Also on the agenda was an interesting idea to have a 10 day “Camberley International Festival” celebrating the culture and arts within the Town Centre in June 2016. In principle, this is a very good idea bringing together some current events with some live music and other activities. However, I remain extremely sceptical of the event finale being a “Picnic in the Park” about which I have blogged separately and it was clear that the practicalities had not been fully considered at this stage.
On Thursday 24th March, I had been invited to Woking Youth Arts Centre to watch a performance of “Hidden” by Peer Productions. This was delivered by 10 young performers on the subject of self-harm who usually present within schools but was a special performance for guests and supporters. I have to say that this was extremely good – challenging and moving in parts and it is no surprise that after performing in schools, they have had a number of disclosures from other young people. It also turned out that one of the young leads was a resident of Old Dean who I subsequently met again recently at the local Cafe to discuss life as a young person living on the Old Dean.
On Thursday 31st March, I attended the funeral of the Surrey Heath Conservative election agent, Alan Cleverly. I had known Alan for many years and wanted to pay my respects both personally and on behalf of our CLP of a worthy political opponent with whom we had regular friendly banter. Around 500 people attended the service at Guildford Cathedral – family, friends and political colleagues and it was a good send off.
In the evening, we had the Audit Committee and the return of our External Auditors. After several months of wrangling and much delay, we heard that the External Auditors have now agreed to sign off the 2014/15 accounts although only offering a qualified opinion in relation to the value for money aspect. The main reason for these problems was because the Council decided to get a new finance system. Unfortunately, the amount of work involved in transferring was severely underestimated especially with some technical issues that arose. This was then compounded with staffing issues specifically sickness meaning that the submissions were late and rushed. This resulted in mistakes and the external auditor then decided to conduct a far more detailed audit than usual which of course now means a larger bill. At the meeting, it was clear that borough officers were not overly happy with every recommendation made by the auditor but which they have now implemented or with a clear timetable of doing so. We don’t yet know the final bill for this but clearly not one of Surrey Heath’s finest hours and one that will hopefully not happen again.