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Surrey CC services consultation

Surrey consultation: our Councillor's view  


Before setting out my views on these, I thought I should recap on what is being consulted on, and why.

The consultations cover :-

Children's services
Services for children with special educational needs (SEND)
Waste disposal, i.e. tips
Bus subsidies for the disabled

As you may know, local government finance has been severely stretched for some years. The new CEO at Surrey County Council has made clear that use of its reserves cannot continue. This effectively requires Surrey to save some £40m before the end of March, plus around £65m of extra savings for 2019/20. The Conservative-led council has decided on a programme of transformation, the intention in theory being to do things differently, to concentrate on helping those most vulnerable. With this in mind, it has opened the current consultation. However cynical we may all be about how and whether consultations are taken into account, I would urge everyone to respond within the specified timescale, i.e. by 4th January 2019.
What follows are my views, taking account of conversations I have had with residents, and those who are currently doing such a great job in providing these very services in and about the Dittons.


Children's Centres
These are under threat. Surrey's proposal is that those at Thames Ditton (Mercer Close) and Claygate would close, leaving in Elmbridge only those at West Molesey and Walton. I have argued that the service available in Mercer Close provides an essential family hub. It is supported by volunteers (as is the Library), and helped by the small financial contributions made by those attending. This level of community support and self help is precisely what Surrey is advocating. Can it possibly be right to suggest there are no parents in our area who suffer isolation, post-natal depression or family abuse, or that there are adequate equivalent services readily available close by? At the very least, if changes are essential on cost grounds, parents need to be advised how and where to find the equivalent service locally, and know they are not being abandoned.


Again at Mercer Close, our Library does not simply loan out books. They have a much-valued range of extra services, also supported by volunteers. These include PC facilities, Crafting, Bridge, Adult reading groups, Rhyme time for children, as well as Creative writing and Story time, an atrium used for local arts and crafts, the sale of cards, stationery and reading glasses, and in addition providing newspapers and tea/coffee facilities. This is a true community asset, providing a wide range of services with a personal touch. The Library also houses a defibrillator. All this will disappear if we reduce our library service to just some kind of online digital book delivery system as mentioned in the consultation document.
For our Children's Centre (which shares the building with Elmbridge who provide Adult Services, including for those with dementia), and our Library, I just wonder whether it might somehow be possible to combine these, and for them to work with the two care homes, junior school, doctors surgery and nursery, so it all worked together for our community as a single hub?


Bus subsidies
The consultation covers the proposal to reduce the free all-day bus subsidy for the disabled (and their carers) so that it wouldn't apply before 9.30am. Inevitably that would affect disabled people needing to get to work at a normal time. Whatever we may think of this, my fear is that it may be a prelude to another consultation into bus subsidies generally. The overall consequences for us of losing our Children's Centre, our Library, and our bus services would be dire, leaving us isolated.


We are told the service needs to ensure those who need help get it early, to prevent even greater problems later. It is hard to reconcile that laudable intention with stopping Children's Centres, described as Sure Start, which is designed to provide just the early support needed, irrespective of colour creed or financial considerations.


Whatever the need for savings, we need sites close enough to encourage us to use them, without charge or at a charge which doesn't deter use, or lead to increased fly-tipping. This is not an easy balancing act, so responding to the consultation is important.


You may well ask: What do we pay our substantial Council Tax for if Surrey can't provide the services we need? Surrey actually spends almost two thirds of our money on Adult Social Care and Children's services. There are clearly difficult choices. But why should we have to choose between looking after the elderly or filling potholes? A better choice might be between HS2 and mending our highways, with central government funding fairly allocated.

I very much welcome your thoughts, but to repeat yet again, please do complete the consultation questionnaires too!  Click here to go to the consultation web page.

Nick Darby
020 8398 2382