Anyone paying attention to the signals coming out of central government will not be surprised at Surrey County Council starting to look seriously at a transition to a unitary authority. Surrey currently has a two or even three tier system comprising of the county council with eleven boroughs and districts underneath it. In some areas there are also parish and even town councils. Powers are shared, divided and in some cases, argued over. Few however, will argue that a multitude of councils and councillors is the most efficient or effective method of local government.
The current set up in Surrey means there are twelve Council Leaders, twelve Chief Executives, twelve civic centres, dozens of deputies and over 500 councillors. This excludes the parishes and six town councils. Bizarrely several County Councillors are also district councillors and a few are on the parish or town council as well! All told over 1000 councillors for 1.2 million people.
The Labour party in Surrey has long argued for a unitary structure for the county but would oppose the transition to one mega-authority. Guildford Labour advocates three unitary councils, supporting a Middlesex and Surrey Borders Council, combining Woking with Guildford and Waverley to create a Surrey Hills (West) Council and an East Surrey Council comprising Epsom and Ewell, Reigate and Banstead, Mole Valley and Tandridge.
Such a structure would be more transparent – voters would know who is responsible for every area of council responsibility, cheaper to run and would make geographical sense with no area being too far away from the res to the authority. We very much hope that Tim Oliver and the ruling Tory group will talk to Labour and other opposition parties and try to agree a new structure that carries the most support within the county. With proper agreement this could be great news for Surrey residents.