Is that a Merger we see Coming on?
As cash-strapped councils across the country grapple with diminishing funds and more onerous responsibilities – mergers and takeovers of local authorities have become inevitable.
Waverley’s Rainbow Coalition together with the Tories has been talking to Guildford Borough Council ever since Surrey County Council indicated Pre-Pandemic that it wanted to create one behemoth unitary authority covering the whole county. Ditching 11 borough & districts en route to creating one giant authority. An outfit that would be responsible for everything from planning to pavements; schools to services; and highways to hedges.
The mutter in Waverley has been growing for the past few weeks. Heightened after a private councillor briefing earlier this week. There was a visible drop in temperature on Tuesday when Cllr Stephen Mulliner – the newly appointed Leader of the Conservative Group heard, judging by his demeanour presumably for the first time, just how fast Waverley’s train was travelling! He was quick to convey that so far, he was not on board.
The Executive and a few other councillors heard Cllr Paul Follows, taking his role as Council Leader for the first time, speak of a “journey” towards collaboration with Guildford Borough Council. Subsequently, followed by what looked less like a collaboration and more like a merger?
After asking officers and staff to leave both the Chamber and Zoom, we are unsure quite why as they could listen in on the public webcast – Cllr Follows outlined the Executive’s vision. Eliminating one by one most of the seven options on papers before them.
Cllr Mulliner said savings that could be achieved jointly- 1.4m p.a. on gross spending of a combined 90m + budget was, “disappointing.” He claimed savings of £500,000 p.a. would not be sufficient to solve Waverley’s financial problems let alone GBC’s which were even larger, achieving only one-third of what Guildford needed to find. He also doubted that the savings proposed would help Waverley’s medium-term financial strategy.
Farnham Residents’ Cllr Jerry Hyman said the move could provoke a lot of upset and upheaval for both councillors and staff.
“Where will we go for meetings? Will the savings be enough to justify all the work that is involved? I hope this isn’t just something to wave in the face of Surrey, because it wants one big unitary authority?
Cllr Follows said there was a risk of action and risk of inaction. The option of doing nothing was – unacceptable.
We need to do something, if not there will be localised cuts to services. Collaboration could mean improvements to services in both Guildford and Waverley.”
He argued there was more to collaboration than just making savings, collaboration would provide opportunities for both authorities to do more, together.
Finance portfolio holder Cllr Mark Merriweather said councillors had a responsibility, not to:
“speculate or to scaremonger. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the preliminary tentative analysis has been underwhelming, as Cllr Mulliner described it the other night. The whole purpose is to research, do due diligence and discovery to inform the decision. The savings proposed could be the largest single contribution towards – closing the gap.”
Sounded more like the train is leaving or has already left the Waverley station?
Cllr Follows responded by saying that the Full Council could, accept the recommendation or amend it as it wished. He reminded everyone that the Executive was a policy-making body and its responsibility was to lead the policy and direction of the council, which was exactly what the recommendation does. He apologised for not having information from South East Employers until this meeting, but more information would follow.
Cllr Hyman asked if the subject would be aired at an Overview & Scrutiny Committee and Cllr Follows said an Extraordinary meeting would be held next week, which he and Cllr Merriweather would attend.
Some residents of Waverley believe this initiative is long overdue. Previous Tory administrations have promised to reduce costs, including reducing the number of councillors, but did nothing. At the same time, it awarded themselves a 95% increase in their allowances.
At one time it even allowed a Chief Executive Officer to send £10,000 of taxpayers’ money up in flames when she sponsored a charity pop concert. We could go on…
Here’s the RECOMMENDATION: That will go before the Full Council on July 6th.
The meeting was then closed to the public to consider a PROPERTY MATTER. Not we might add, disposing of Waverley Towers and taking flight!
The predecessor of Waverley Borough Council was the Hambledon Rural District Council which operated from 1894 until 1974. Guildford Urban and Guildford Rural merged to form Guildford Borough Council in 974.