REVEALED - Surrey County Council's 20 buildings kept empty for a total of 112 years

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have expressed their dismay after it was revealed, in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request, that Conservative-run Surrey County Council has left 20 buildings empty for a cumulative total of 112 years, with one building in Warlingham left empty for a shocking 18 years. The County Council spent £307,464 in just one year in 2016/17 maintaining its 20 vacant buildings.

Cllr Hazel Watson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council said today:

"The Conservative administration at County Hall has allowed 20 of its own buildings to stand empty for a cumulative total of 112 years, with one building in Warlingham left empty for a shocking 18 years.

"It is wrong that these council buildings have been left empty without earning any rental income and not properly maintained, in fact left to decay with the result that they are less valuable. This is no way to manage property.

"The response to my Freedom of Information request to the County Council reveals that it spent £304,464 in just one year, in 2016/17, maintaining 20 empty buildings at council tax payer expense. The total cost for maintaining these buildings over all the years that they have been left empty will be a massive amount. This is an utter waste of council tax payers' money which could be much better spent on vital services for Surrey residents, many of which are being cut due to the County Council's financial crisis.

"These empty buildings should either be used for providing council services or let for rent or sold. I am pressing the Conservative administration to stop wasting money and for urgent action to be taken to use, rent or sell these buildings.

"I regret that, as a county councillor, I have had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act in order to obtain what are basic facts about County Council-owned properties. I can only assume that the Conservative administration at County Hall deemed the information too embarrassing to provide to me, which is completely unacceptable."

NOTES

- The list of empty buildings, obtained via an FOI request, can be found here:

http://scc.lib.dm/d0PH

- Cllr Watson's original FOI request can be found here:

http://scc.lib.dm/d5PH

- The covering letter for the FOI response can be found here:

http://scc.lib.dm/d6PH

- Cllr Watson's previous Cabinet question on this matter can be found here (p9-11):

https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/documents/g5110/Decisions%20Tuesday%2026-Sep-2017%2014.00%20Cabinet.pdf?T=2

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Surrey Tories miss their chance to rethink CRCs cuts plan

Liberal Democrat county councillors have expressed disappointment after Conservatives in Surrey voted to rubber stamp their unpopular cuts to Community Recycling Centres across the county.

Cllr Stephen Cooksey, Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson, tabled a "call-in" request alongside other opposition councillors which, if successful, would have forced the Conservative Cabinet to consider the matter again.

However, Conservative councillors on the Environment Committee blocked the call-in request and so the cuts to the opening hours of Community Recycling Centres and increased charges will now go ahead.

Cllr Cooksey said:

"This is bad news for Surrey residents. The Conservatives had the chance to ask to ask their Cabinet colleagues to rethink these ill-thought out proposals but instead they have let them off the hook. Residents will not be impressed when they are charged for their DIY waste or when they find the tip closed for many more days a week. They will hold this Conservative council responsible for this reduction in service and I will be monitoring the situation closely to try and protect CRCs from further cuts from the Tories in the months and years ahead".

The papers for the Call-In request can be found here:

https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=645&MId=6191

 

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Dismay as "broke" County Council gives £400K grant to Surrey art gallery with £38 MILLION in funds

Liberal Democrat county councillors have condemned a decision by Conservative-run Surrey County Council to award a £400K grant to an art gallery which has £38m of funds and an income of £1.2m a year.

The Watts Gallery in Compton, Guildford, was awarded the money following a decision by the Leader of the Council at a meeting on 12th September 2017. In the papers produced, the County Council's Chief Finance Officer warns that the County Council's financial position is extremely serious, that the proposed expenditure has not been budgeted for and that the gallery was already "financially viable".

Cllr Penny Rivers, Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Godalming North, said today:

"At a time of huge spending cuts in Surrey, it is quite incredible that the priority of the Conservatives is to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on an art gallery which appears to be in good financial health and well supported. Just last week, the Tory Cabinet voted to cut Housing Related Support by £3.7m to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. The Leader of the Council undermines his own case for better funding from the Government if he thinks that these spending priorities are sensible and in the best interests of Surrey residents. How on earth can he look residents of sheltered housing in the face who are about to lose some of their warden schemes and tell them that this is a sensible use of public money? This decision should be reversed as quickly as possible, with the money re-invested in council services to the benefit of Surrey residents. I support the arts but I support sheltered housing for vulnerable people even more, and furthermore, I suspect GF Watts would too."

NOTES

Cllr Rivers council question and answer can be found here:

https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/documents/b18784/Cabinet%20Briefings%20and%20Questions%20Responses%20Tuesday%2010-Oct-2017%2010.00%20Council.pdf?T=9

Minutes of the Leader's Decision meeting of 12th September can be found here:

https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=182&MId=5271&Ver=4

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Universal Credit Tory rebellion shows cuts must be reversed in Autumn Budget

Responding to the news Conservative backbenchers have called for a pause to the rollout of Universal Credit, Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions Spokesman Stephen Lloyd MP said:

"There is a mounting sense that the government could be defeated if it does not immediately pause the roll-out of Universal Credit. 

"The roll-out has been an utter failure so far, with many claimants waiting over two months for their first payment and some relying on loans to survive. Rent arrears among universal credit claimants are also through the roof.

"If the Conservatives are serious about helping ordinary people get ahead in life, they must immediately pause the roll-out of Universal Credit until these issues are resolved. Reversing the huge cuts to UC in this Autumn's budget would be a good start.

"Universal credit was supported by the Liberal Democrats in coalition because it promised to make work pay.

"Sadly, under this Tory Government it has been cut to shreds, leaving families worse off and with weaker incentives to find work."

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Disappointment as Tory cuts hit Community Recycling Centres across Surrey

Liberal Democrat county councillors in Surrey have expressed their disappointment following a decision today by the Conservative Cabinet to slash the opening hours of Community Recycling Centres across the county and increase charges for residents.

The decision will see Community Recycling Centres close for an extra 20 days a week, as well as an end to the free daily allowance. The Cabinet decision follows a petition handed in by Liberal Democrat campaigners of 3,245 signatures, plus an enormous response to the county council's own consultation of 13,637 people.

Cllr Stephen Cooksey, Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson, said:

"I addressed the Conservative Cabinet today, in order to object to these ill thought out proposals and to hold the Conservatives to account for their decisions. I recognise the difficult financial position that central government has imposed on the County Council but just 3 months ago, in June, the Cabinet were out campaigning for that government's return and must therefore carry equal responsibility for the refusal of that government to ensure adequate funding for this Council to maintain services to its residents.

"CRC'S were a success story - they provided residents with a helpful and convenient method of disposing of waste; they helped Councils to improve their waste collections; they made a major contribution to improving our environment and they were a significant deterrent to fly tipping.

"I believe, as do the majority of my residents, that the remaining package including the increased charges and closure days are self-defeating and unacceptable and am fearful that the reduced waste collections will lead to damage to the environment and increased fly tipping. Surrey residents deserve so much better than this."

NOTES

- The Cabinet decision can be found here:

https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=5110&x=1

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Liberal Democrats launch petition to save the Surrey Performing Arts Library

The Liberal Democrats have launched a petition to save the Surrey Performing Arts Library which is under threat of closure by Surrey County Council. Surrey residents have reacted with dismay on hearing of the threatened closure and that the County Council's consultation exercise will give residents just two weeks to respond.

The Library, which is currently based near Dorking at Denbies Wine Estate, houses a truly unique collection of music, theatre, orchestral and dance materials available for public loan. It also holds a specialist Vaughan Williams collection and permanent display covering the life and works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), commemorating his strong links with the area where he lived and where he composed some of his most important pieces.

Cllr Hazel Watson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council, said:

"I am appalled that the Conservative administration at County Hall is trying to rush through a consultation in just two weeks on the closure of this unique and much loved amenity. Liberal Democrat county councillors have previously opposed attempts to close this facility and will do so again, in order to protect such an important part of Surrey's musical and artistic heritage. I have written to the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive asking them to extend the consultation to six weeks, in order for as many residents as possible to respond.

"The Performing Arts Library is a great asset to the County. The Library not only benefits the many groups that use play scripts and musical scores to perform plays and orchestral works, but also benefits the audiences who enjoy the performances. The beneficial impact of the Library is immense and we need to do everything possible to retain it. I am calling for as many residents as possible to respond to the County Council's consultation and also to sign the petition we have launched today to retain the Performing Arts Library and protect it from closure".

Cllr David Goodwin, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Communities, added:

"This service must be retained for the benefit of all Surrey residents. There has been little or no scrutiny of this proposal by county councillors and a two week consultation period is totally inadequate. These plans should be fully examined by all county councillors in Surrey before any decisions are made. To lose such a specialist service alongside many dedicated and knowledgeable staff would be an act of great folly, and we will oppose it".

NOTES

A link to the petition can be found here:

http://scc.lib.dm/P22S

The County Council online consultation on the future of the Library can be found here:

https://www.surreysays.co.uk/libraries-service/38ff7ab4/

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Lib Dems march for Exit from Brexit

On Saturday, 9th September I joined 3,000 Liberal Democrats at Hyde Park Corner. EU flags were waving, placards were being held aloft and there was an abundance of stickers.

Through the somewhat hit-and-miss medium of handheld loudspeaker, Catherine Bearder MEP addressed the crowd, followed by party leader Vince Cable. They wished us well on the upcoming march and said its timing was key, as Parliament will debate the repeal bill (formally known as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill) on Monday. The Conservative government has included in the Bill provision to give itself powers over which pieces of EU law remain copied over into UK law, and which are amended or repealed, bypassing any further scrutiny by Parliament. These are known as Henry VIII powers: in short, a power grab.

Fired up by the need to defend parliamentary democracy, we started to march, joining the rest of the People's March for Europe at Curzon Gate. We stopped briefly as the march passed Downing Street to direct a few chants at the Prime Minister, then continued on. As we arrived in Parliament Square, the sky briefly clouded over and the statue of Churchill loomed large, causing me to wonder what he'd make of all of this.

There were a wide range of speakers, but the two that stood out for me were Bhupinder Singh and Tom Brake MP.

Bhupinder Singh has been one of the key volunteers helping the Grenfell Tower survivors. He reminded us that most of the residents of Grenfell were immigrants, a large proportion were refugees, and all were poor, living in one of the wealthiest boroughs in Europe. Those who have died have not all been identified and those who escaped have not all been given the right levels of accommodation and support, particularly with regards to mental health treatment. He concluded: "the measure of any society is how it treats its poor".

Tom Brake MP, who is the Lib Dem spokesperson for Europe, divided his short speech into two parts: the lies behind the Leave campaign and the cynical attempts by the government to reduce scrutiny of its actions. He said that the Brexit bus had promised £350 a week for the NHS, but in reality the NHS will have higher costs because of Brexit, including having to pay for the visas of EU nurses. As if Brexit weren't bad enough, the government's repeal bill is also "trampling on Parliamentary sovereignty" and must be opposed.

The mood throughout the day varied between reflective, angry and energised. There were imaginative ways of expressing opinion, from a placard saying "I'm rather cross", to a crude cartoon of Donald Trump, to balloons proudly spelling out REMAIN. One point was consistent throughout: this bill is not being done in our name. When negotiations end, we need the option of an exit from Brexit.

Written by Carrie Hynds a member from Brighton and Hove.

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Save our Tips - over 2000 sign Lib Dem petition in Surrey against Tory plans

Over two thousand residents have signed a Liberal Democrat petition against Surrey County Council's proposals to close four popular and well-used Community Recycling Centres (CRCs) in Bagshot, Cranleigh, Dorking and Warlingham. The County Council is also planning to reduce the opening hours of all the remaining CRCs, as well as scrapping the daily free waste allowance in order to save £2m from its budget.

Cllr Stephen Cooksey, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the Environment, said:

"I am pleased that so many residents have signed our petition and also made their feelings known to the County Council via its online consultation, and I urge those who have not done so to fill in both. Like us, many residents are concerned that fly-tipping will increase as a result of these proposals, which would then lead to extra costs in clearing dumped rubbish, as well as further damage to the environment. Furthermore residents will be forced to travel longer to sites further away, which is both inconvenient and increases vehicle pollution. Community Recycling Centres in Surrey are well-used and highly regarded by residents and I urge the Conservative Cabinet member to take heed of the public reaction to this petition and the consultation, and reject the changes that have been proposed".

NOTES

- A link to the Lib Dem petition can be found here:

http://scc.lib.dm/P62Q

- A link to the County Council's consultation - which closes on 7th August - can be found here:

https://www.surreysays.co.uk/e-i-directorate-programme-group/shaping-surreys-community-recycling-centres-1/

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Lord Chris Rennard, raises the issue of Mental Health in Schools!

Lord Chris Rennard, during a recent debate in the House of Lords, raised the issue of Mental Health in schools. It was in particular to do with the support for children and young people who have mental health issues.

It was during the questions on Health in that place. The question which started the debate, was raised by Labour's Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, who asked. "To ask Her Majesty's Government when they intend to bring forward proposals to reform Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services as outlined in their 2017 manifesto."

Here is the question from Lord Rennard, and the answer from Lord O'Shauhnessy, The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health

Photo of Lord Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat

"The Government in Scotland are considering providing mental health counsellors in every secondary school. Does the Minister accept that all schools should have dedicated members of staff able to do more than just provide mental health first aid, and that there should be a trained mental health and well-being lead in every school, college and university?"

Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

"That is what we are moving towards with the mental health first aid training for teachers in all schools. The noble Lord will recognise that schools come in all different shapes and sizes and that it is easier to do that initially in secondary schools, which are bigger than, for example, rural primary schools which might only have a staff of 10. It is critical to make sure that there is at least one member of staff who is highly trained in spotting and dealing with the initial signs of mental health problems and signposting them to the relevant authority-local health authority or whatever it is-for further care."

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Lib Dems highlight 'unsafe' care homes in Surrey

Liberal Democrat county councillors have expressed their concern after it was revealed that 6 care homes in Surrey are rated as "Unsafe" by the Care Quality Commission and have contracts with Surrey County Council. The information was revealed following a question tabled by Cllr Hazel Watson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council, to the Conservative Cabinet this week.

In his oral reply to Cllr Watson, the Cabinet member for Adults stated that the County Council does not send new residents to care homes that have received the poor rating, and puts in place an action plan to improve care homes which receive the rating and have existing Surrey residents.

Cllr Watson said:

"It should concern us all that we have Surrey residents receiving care packages paid for by the County Council but living in accommodation which is rated as "Unsafe" by the Care Quality Commission. One of the County Council's corporate priorities is for residents to 'live and age well', and it is not possible to age well in an environment that has been deemed unsafe by a national regulator.

"I am calling for the County Council to urgently tackle this issue by working with care homes to ensure that no Surrey resident in receipt of a care package paid for by the County Council is living in a home that has been rated as unsafe".

NOTES

A link to the question and answer can be found here (p8) - however the County Council have subsequently confirmed that the number of 4 care homes was incorrect, and should be 6:

https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/documents/g5109/Decisions%20Tuesday%2018-Jul-2017%2014.00%20Cabinet.pdf?T=2

A webcast of the Cabinet meeting can be found here (scroll to 0:05:45):

https://surreycc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/297151

The CQC ratings for the 6 Surrey care homes can be found here:

http://www.cqc.org.uk/search/services/care-homes?page=2&location=Redhill%2C%20United%20Kingdom&latitude=51.239208&longitude=-0.16988000000003467&sort=distance&distance=30&mode=html&f[0]=im_field_inspection_rating%3A3928&la=

The CQC report on the state of adult social care services 2014-17 in England can be found here:

http://www.cqc.org.uk/publications/major-report/state-adult-social-care-services-2014-2017

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