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Tuesday, 18th July 2017

Updates from behind the Front Line- 18th July 2017

Complacency is no response to the tragedy of Grenfell Tower

The debate about Surrey’s Fire and Rescue Service at Full Council was a saddening affair. All complacency and bluster with no regard for the fact that the Fire Brigades Union has passed a vote of no confidence in the Surrey Fire service. This was not the right tone, and it was sad that there was no recognition of the need to offer reassurance and to confirm that all issues will be looked at to ensure that there is adequate funding for the service.

The fire which occurred last week at Weybridge Community Hospital and which burnt for many hours confirmed the need for a robust and flexible service; I still have a terrible feeling that the commitment and bravery of the Fire staff serves, as elsewhere in the public sector, to plug the funding gap with sheer effort. That being the case, the least councillors could do is to listen, reflect and review. Instead of which we all agreed an amended motion which was anodyne, and somehow missed the point. The Fire and Rescue Service is probably underfunded. Time it was sorted out.

Housing Related Support

For many years the County Council has contributed towards contracts for providers to support vulnerable people in their own homes, to keep them safe and prevent them needing packages of social care. The proposal is to withdraw this funding and there is another “consultation” on the matter. In Tandridge this potentially means the withdrawal of the Warden service from sheltered housing schemes. This will have the effect of making lone and vulnerable elderly people feel more isolated and, as the Cabinet Member agreed, will likely mean that within a year or so the residents will require social care and the bill will be higher. It doesn’t make any sense and will rebound on the financial bottom line as well as leaving residents with a much less personal and reassuring telephone only support service.

I will be pressing the District Council to plug this gap on Thursday and I know I will get some support; but I have no idea where the money would come from. The trouble is, cuts are falling on vulnerable people all the time and there is no controlling mind at the County Council to ensure that the burden falls evenly, or on the least vulnerable. And furthermore they are pitting councils against one another, as cuts by the County impact on the District.

Recycling Credits

The County is threatening to break its contract with the District, which runs till 2019, and cut its recycling credits by £750,000. This is a very significant blow to TDC. It threatens our recycling scheme and is a huge budget hole to fill. Again, there is no overview which looks at the impact on the environment, as the County benefits hugely from our recycling scheme; if we didn’t recycle it would cost the County millions. A sweet revenge maybe, but it would be the wrong thing to do and the environment would suffer.
Closing Bond Road tip and closing Chaldon Road for an extra day.

The Leader of the County Council is under huge pressure over his proposal to close the tip in Warlingham and reduce availability of recycling and disposal at other sites. They spent £103k refurbishing the tip only last year- what a waste of public money. Yet he was elected with a large majority only two months ago, so people have four years to forget the broken promises.

The impact of the closure on Caterham, and on surrounding areas, will be huge; we had a taste of it when Bond Road was being refurbished last year- queues of cars round the block into the High Street, fly-tipping, which the District and landowners generally have to pick up the bill for clearing, and a significant loss of amenity for residents.

Residents are not paying less Council Tax, they are paying more- yet Dormers and other County owned properties sit empty, while the County Council itself has yet to implement the kind of efficiencies TDC started over five years ago. Yet TDC will be under pressure, as will Parish Councils, to clear the verges and make hedgerows safe, and generally plug the gap the inefficient County Council is leaving across the County.

These are grim days, and there is no holiday mood in sight in local government.

I will speak at the Cabinet this afternoon in a last attempt to speak up for the families who use the services at The Beeches. The service will be close and a number of families will face the heartbreaking closure of the one service which helped them support their severely disabled children. A real failure of joint commissioning between health and social care, and a real betrayal of the families.

On Thursday evening Tandridge District Council will debate a number of key issues. As the Consultation on the potential Garden Village sites begins, a number of points need to be made, and I will make them:

  1. The last Local Plan betrayed the people of Caterham and Chaldon. All the development which has taken place over the last 10 years has resulted in no real infrastructure improvement. An extension at Hillcroft School remains the only really visible input. As a result, Caterham residents will be in fear of severe thunderstorms this afternoon in case the flash floods of last year re-visit them, as the drains cannot cope.
  2. The proposals for a Garden Village will need to remedy this. CIL money must be spent on things which benefit our residents- a major upgrade to Junction 6 of the M25, investment in primary care to take pressure off surgeries, investment in a new secondary school, improvements to the A22. All these must be the conditions required by any Garden Village development, which we can all say will benefit Tandridge residents.

The fight to upgrade our drainage system to prevent further flooding will be a long haul, but approval by referendum of the Neighbourhood Plan (being consulted on as I write- respond!) will give the Parish Council much required CIL money we can spend on such projects. But actually, we need to establish a significant local fund to invest in increased capacity for sewers and drains, as well as highways. I am asking the Leader of TDC to work with me to create a strong governance process to create and manage such a fund; I know there will be cross party support for this.

Next week, the County’s Children and Education Select Committee, of which I am a member, starts at 10am on Tuesday, one week from today. For a TDC committee I would have received the papers by now. They are not even on line for me to read. That will encourage robust scrutiny won’t it!