The possibility of a Unitary Authority for Surrey (Surrey currently has eleven District and Borough Councils) is under discussion.
The Government will be publishing a Recovery and Devolution White Paper in the autumn. There is a clear linkage between economic recovery and reform of local authorities including the transition to more unitary authorities. Several counties already have a unitary authority though they have much smaller populations compared with Surrey’s 1.2 million.
A quote from the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government:
Local government will be at the heart of our economic recovery and our broader mission as a government – what we were elected at the end of last year to do – to level up and unite our country. We’re committed to delivering an infrastructure revolution in each and every part of the country – we’re determined not to waste any more time in our mission to build the country forwards, to build back better. At the heart of this mission is to update our out-of-date planning system, to breathe new life into town centres and high streets, and to ensure that vacant buildings are given new opportunities for businesses to thrive. And for people to be able to get jobs in those parts of the country.
In anticipation of the White Paper later this year, Councillor Tim Oliver, leader of Surrey Council Council, has written to the Minister requesting that the Minister invites SCC to submit a business case as soon as possible setting out their proposals for a single unitary council for Surrey. It is stated that such a move for a one-off cost of £52.7m will generate annual saving of £136m.
Councillor Oliver states that Surrey MPs can see the benefits of a unitary structure.
Our Member of Parliament, while seeing the advantages, also feels that there are potential disadvantages and will not take a firm view until he has heard all the arguments including the opinions of his constituents.
So now we await:
- the White Paper
- on the assumption that SCC is invited to submit a business case to the Minister, the proposals that it contains
- in particular where the savings will come from with no detrimental impact on the range and quality of services
- the impact on the structure and functioning of local democracy.
The Residents Association will keep you updated as and when further information becomes available.