Surrey County Council commits to setting up local networks for closer resident engagement

The county council is supporting its leader’s vision of giving residents a greater say on issues affecting them.

Fifty out of 68 councillors voted this week to “support residents to have a greater role in determining the priorities for the future of their communities”.

Their commitment will involve creating up to 30 local community networks across Surrey.

Helyn Clack, vice chairman of the council, said these would be “in defined and distinct natural communities that local people would recognise, understand and feel an affinity with.”

They would make full use of social media to engage residents but also other ways for “those who are less tech-savvy”.

The networks could cover populations between 30,000 and 50,000 residents, much smaller than the district and borough councils, with the aim of bringing decision-making closer to local communities.

They could involve unelected boards of key stakeholders like health, police and the voluntary sector, chaired by councillors.

Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver said: “As I have said previously and consistently, what is most important to me, beyond any structural change or governance, is our residents, their priorities and giving them more influence over their own communities.”

He called upon councillors to be bold and embrace change, telling them: “We want to deliver power to the people. These networks will give local people a greater say in the issues that affect them, using local knowledge to influence councillors and officers. We will continue to develop these exciting plans in anticipation of the detail of the devolution agenda of government.”

Dr Andrew Povey, Conservative councillor for Cranleigh and Ewhurst, said he would like to see the police, health authorities and Environment Agency involved.

He was concerned that the networks might be seen as a fourth tier of local government.

Seventeen councillors abstained from the vote. Many opposition councillors said, though they liked the networks idea in principle, they wanted more detail on their powers and did not want them to be just “talking shops”.

Cllr Clack added: “We need to make sure they have teeth so there will have to be devolution, and with devolution there will have to be funding, and that funding will have to come from those partners that are engaged in those communities, of course from the county council and working with the boroughs and districts.”

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