What a week it has been at County Hall. Chaos reigns while one councillor after another lose their jobs, including both the Leader and the Deputy Leader.
On Monday Dr Andrew Povey, Council Leader, sacked his Deputy, David Hodge, for alleged “differences of opinion.” On Wednesday Andrew Povey himself resigned claiming that he could not continue being Council Leader whilst also running his health care business (despite having done so for the length of his tenure). And today, in another parting shot, the resigned leader sacks Cabinet Councillor Ian Lake
What a state of affairs. We have a rudderless Council in disarray. What other professional and efficient organisation of the Council’s size would behave in such a way? If the Council was a business, would its shareholders be happy about such goings on? Those shareholders would certainly be seeing the value of their shares plummeting right now.
The truth is that the leadership at Surrey County Council has for some time conducted its business behind a murky cloak of obfuscation. The Surrey public only sees closedness and reluctance from the Council to open up and listen. Only recently the Council refused to consult on on-street parking charges and there has been a similar refusal to consult on controversial library plans. Thousands of signatures on petitions go ignored; reasonable, intelligent public questions are dismissed or simply go unanswered; considered recommendations of Select Committees just get rejected. On every issue, the approach at County Hall is to cover everything up and present done deals.
And when the Council feels it has to justify its decisions it uses dodgy data or just gets it plain wrong. The recent Public Value Review on libraries conducted by County Hall, and used to justify current library plans, is littered with errors. Under pressure from SLAM, SCC was forced to carry out an audit of the PVR. And according to SCC’s own internal auditors, over 30% of the data and calculations were in error. The response from the leaders at the Council? “So what, we’re carrying out our plans anyway.”
Surrey doesn’t deserve democracy these days, apparently. All Surrey gets is decisions made behind closed doors between one or two people at the very top – fait accompli. Don’t like it? Have some reasonable objections? Tough luck!
And then we get the chaos of this week. No reasons given for the sackings or resignations, just unexplained disarray. What has been going on at County Hall over the past few years that has led to this pass? Why the cloak and dagger, why the secrecy, why the lack of openness? The people of Surrey deserve answers.
We think that, to avoid any doubt or suspicion, Surrey County Council should set up an independent enquiry, open and public, to find out exactly what has been going on, the basis for all decisions and to investigate potential conflict in Members’ interests. If the leaders at Surrey County Council have done nothing wrong then they will have nothing to fear or hide from such an enquiry.
And in the meantime, County Hall should halt its controversial library plans until a clean bill of health is established. Amidst the chaos that is reigning at Surrey County Council, now is not the time to be making permanent strategic decisions on the library service.