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Secret Surrey stifles scrutiny

January 22, 2012 8:14 PM
Originally published by Surrey County Council Lib Dems

Plans kept secretFollowing the announcement by the Conservative Leader of Surrey County Council that he is proposing a 2.99% rise in Council Tax, Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council are demanding to know why councillors have been denied papers to properly scrutinise the proposals by the Conservative administration for the County's 2012/13 Budget.

At a meeting of the County Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Friday which was meant scrutinise the 2012/13 Budget, and at which papers were meant to be available for scrutiny, no papers were presented. Members, behind closed doors, were given a two-minute presentation by a senior Finance Officer and brief verbal summaries by Conservative Scrutiny Committee Chairmen of their views.

In a number of briefings to Select Committees by council officers that were held behind closed doors, councillors have been denied any background papers or even printed copies of the PowerPoint presentations they were being shown.

Liberal Democrat Leader of the Opposition Cllr Hazel Watson is submitting two formal questions to the Council's Cabinet challenging the secrecy behind Surrey County Council's decision making.

Cllr Watson says: "Secret Surrey is denying proper scrutiny of major proposals about cuts to services in the County.

"Surrey's residents must come first, and proposals should be discussed in an open and transparent way that ensures they get the best value for money and that essential services are protected. The lack of real and effective scrutiny of proposals means that this isn't happening."

More like North Korea than Kent

Cllr Watson is also tabling a question asking why Surrey is taking so long to publish any sort of budget. Kent County Council published its detailed 59 page "Draft Budget Book 2012/13" on 20 December 2011, giving Kent residents and businesses one month to examine the detailed plans and comment on them.

Cllr Watson added: "When you couple the secret way in which proposals are discussed by Conservative controlled Surrey County Council, with the very late availability of information, you end up with crucial decisions being taken in a manner more in keeping with North Korea than democratic Britain."

Notes

Councillor Hazel Watson is tabling the following questions for the meeting of the Conservative Cabinet of Surrey County Council on 31 January:

Question 1: The first paragraph of the role of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee set out at the Annual General Meeting of the County Council stated "Monitoring performance, risk and budget across all services", how can the Committee perform this function, when at the 20 January meeting under the item on the County Council Draft Budget, no papers were provided to members to perform either the role of overview or the role of scrutiny?

Question 2: Who is responsible for issuing the instruction to officers that Members of the Council should not be provided with copies of the PowerPoint presentations or any background papers at the recent budget briefings to Select Committees?

Question 3: Kent County Council published its detailed 59 page "Draft Budget Book 2012/13" on 20 December 2011, giving Kent residents and businesses one month to examine the detailed plans and comment on them. By contrast Surrey County Council published a far less detailed outline budget with no details of proposed cuts to services and no time for detailed consultation, a month later. Why cannot Surrey County Council conduct the budget setting process in the open and transparent way in which its neighbour does?