While cash-strapped councils across the country forge closer links to stave off bankruptcy, Waverley Tories want to jettison Guildford.
The tension in the atmosphere at Waverley Towers at Tuesday’s Full Council meeting was palpable as Tory leader Peter Martin proposed a motion to end Waverley’s links with its Guildford partner.
Waverley’s Tory Group – led by Peter Martin, Michael Goodridge and Carole Cockburn – which has opposed the three-year council collaboration of Waverley & Guildford from the outset, now wants to end the partnership.
Light the blue touch paper and stand back! Because a fight is about to ensue!
Notice of Motion (Procedure Rule 12.1) – Council 17 October 2023
Cllrs Martin, Goodridge and Cockburn
This Council resolves to review the collaboration arrangements with Guildford Borough Council with an intention of seeking an orderly termination of those arrangements. Council requests that within 90 days, a full review of the costs, benefits and disadvantages of these arrangements to date be undertaken by Officers, together with a full review of the costs, advantages and disadvantages of a reasonable timetable for that termination.
Tory Leader Cllr Martin claimed the original decision opposed by his group was conceived in haste, the governance structure was flawed, and the ruling administration had ignored its warnings. No private business would have embarked on such a foolhardy “Merger”, which had resulted in colossal disruption of staff and wholesale resignations, culminating in the resignation of Chief Executive Tom Horwood. The impact on staff morale and service levels in planning and elsewhere was evident in the impact on council services. He stressed the failure of the “merger” was not the fault of Waverley or Guildford’s staff. It was what was asked of them.
He accused the administration of presiding over the worst staff turnover in the country. This was categorically denied by Cllr Liz Townsend, who had earlier given statistics on staff recruitment difficulties faced by councils and other organisations across the country. The spectre of Waverley’s planning function being taken over by the Government had also been lifted. Waverley’s planning performance had dramatically improved.
Cllr Martin said: A strong Guildford is good for Waverley, and a weak Guildford is bad for Waverley – when the going gets tough for one council, it impacts the other. Guildford is a failing council.
He claimed all the signs were on the recent Risk Assessment, which revealed flags of RED, RED AND MORE RED!
It is time to call a halt; we must stop this and organise an orderly halt. I supported a Unitary Authority as the best option, he admitted later.
Surrey County Council’s bid for Unitary Status catalysed collaboration with Guildford. Surrey applied three years ago to take over 20 borough councils in the county. Waverley and others strongly opposed this.
Cllr Micheal Goodridge, seconding the motion, claimed “high-risk financial decisions” had been made by the council in recent months.
Others claimed this, including the evening decision to forge ahead with a £31m scheme for a new leisure centre in Cranleigh. Which they opposed.
Cllr Jane Austen (Con ) claimed the chaotic exercise was not a collaboration but a merger, conducted in haste over 20 days. Waverley had tied itself to Guildford Borough Council, now in “deep trouble.” There had been no “initial proper financial analysis,” and having a schedule of risk was not the same as having a full Risk Assessment.
I want a council where staff are 100% employed by this council and not firefighting for another down the road,”
Cllr Victoria Keil described the Tory group’s motion as ‘hysterical, illogical scaremongering, irresponsible, which would damage staff morale, recruitment and retention. Working together was the only game in town. Waverley had made efficiencies and economies of scale and did not have a monopoly on good ideas for making savings. The motion had been put forward with – no answers or suggestions for alternatives.
The opposition is using wrecking tactics to get a divorce from Guildford.
Farnham Cllr Jerry Hyman said voting for the motion would be a “big mistake.”Others accused the Tories of putting politics before people,
Cllr Cockburn said the present state was not a collaboration or merger, saying she would prefer a Merger, but this hybrid helps no one. Her references to private talks held with senior officers and emotive talk of “working with the enemy”, together with claims that Waverley officers were working for Guildford, was roundly attacked by a fuming Cllr Liz Townsend.
Cllr Kika Mirylees said the motion could result in members of both authorities facing redundancy notices, causing a catastrophic loss of confidence.
I’ve had enough of these political shenanigans against a background of chaos in this country and beyond.
The motion was defeated by 35 votes to 9.
It wasn’t easy for the WW to choose one particular clip. But a newcomer to the council, Cllr. Michael Higgins (Lib Dem Ewhurst) summed it up here. Other clips will be posted later.