Interim Report of SHBC LibDem Leader 6/2/2020

February 6, 2020 6:17 AM
By Sashi Mylvaganam

Surrey Heath Borough Council (SHBC)

Interim Report 2019/20 - From the Lib Dem Group Leader

Much has happened at Surrey Heath Borough Council in 2020.

The year began with the tragic death of Bagshot Lib Dem Councillor Sam Kay, who passed away in Frimley Park Hospital following a short illness. Sam was a qualified accountant and a valued member of the Lib Dem Group. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family.

Historical Perspective

When we became councillors in 2019, the Lib Dem Cllrs on the Audit & Standards committee reviewed the draft accounts of SHBC and discovered an outrageous 38% pay rise had been awarded to the Chief Executive of the Council.

The Lib Dem Leader, Cllr Sashi Mylvaganam, started making enquiries as to how, in a time of austerity when the Government restricted pay awards, such a massive pay rise could have been authorised. All the Councillors who had been on the Executive team when the award was made claimed to have had no knowledge of the pay award decision.

At the insistence of the Lib Dems, an external investigator was appointed to look into this matter.

Whilst this investigation was ongoing the Tory Cllr group brought a No Confidence motion in their leader, Richard Brooks, removing him as the Tory Group Leader. This led to the resignation of Cllr Brooks as Council Leader. His deputy, Charlotte Morley, resigned at the same time. Cllr Brooks had been Deputy leader of the council for almost 17 years & Cllr Morley was the Finance Executive (Cabinet member) in the last two councils.

We can only speculate that their own group did not believe their assertion that they did not know about the CEO pay increase. The Conservatives put out a statement shortly after these resignations, stating that the "Conservative Group held a unanimous vote of no confidence in Cllr Richard Brooks, for failing to uphold the highest standards of integrity consistent with being a Conservative Councillor." At the same meeting, Cllr Alan McClafferty was elected as leader of the Conservative group. Cllrs Brooks and Morley subsequently left the Conservative group, becoming 'Camberley Independent' Cllrs instead.

Current Situation at the Council

The current Council comprises 34 Councillors (one seat is vacant due to Sam Kay's death)

Conservatives

16

Liberal Democrats

9

Independent

4

Green

2

Camberley Independents (Brooks and Morley)

2

Labour

1

The Conservatives remain the largest political grouping, but do not have overall control. This puts the council into a situation called No Overall Control (NOC), and the council was also without a Leader or Duty Leader.

Meanwhile, the administrative side of Surrey Heath Borough Council is IN A MESS. There are NO senior staff in post running the council; the heads of all of the main departments either have resigned or are on "administrative leave." The Conservative Group has just lost their leader (lack of integrity) and their deputy leader has resigned as well.

Political Situation

With the council falling into NOC and with an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) called in which the Cllrs would elect a new Council leader, the political manoeuvring began! Labour expressed an interest in the leadership, but reality set in as it was clear that Lib Dems would not support a Labour leader. In fact, it was made clear that the Lib Dem cllrs would not enter into coalition with any other group. The UK electorate does not favour coalitions, as we know to our cost; we were elected to stand for and support our values and that is what we intend to do.

A new proposal of a coalition between the Camberley Independents (ex Tories), Labour and the Independents was then made. At the EGM on Weds 29th January, Labour duly proposed an Independent leader. Labour and the Independents were quite happy to get into an alliance with the VERY Tories who had been thrown out of their party for failing to uphold the highest standards of integrity, in order to gain power. Lib Dem and Green Cllrs could not support them, and we call into question their political & moral judgment.

Scrutiny of the Conservative-Led Council

Since the local elections in May 2019, the Conservatives have had to face a level of scrutiny they have not experienced before. Council officers had never had to deal with new ideas or challenges before. We believe that the Council needs to have clarity and to be able to concentrate on getting internal systems in place for control of what is in effect a multi-million-pound organisation.

The Council's finances are in a parlous state: the Tories have invested in property, such as the Camberley shopping centre, which is decreasing in value. In the last annual accounts the property portfolio (assets) had been devalued by a stated £26 million. We believe the true figure to be nearer £50 million.

What exists today is the result of an unopposed and uncontrolled Conservative- led council.

It is going to require the concentrated effort of all the councillors to remedy the situation.

Why did the Lib Dems not take control?

As mentioned above, the composition of the political groupings of the councillors does not add up to provide stable governance for the residents of Surrey heath.

For the Council to be made effective, all involved will need to contribute. If there is a minority group in charge there is no guarantee that it will be able to put into effect any changes that are so needed. The committees will have a majority of Tory councillors, so any leadership change would still have to work with a Conservative majority in the Council.

It was clear to us that if we are to serve the residents in making Surrey Heath work, then the Council would need to be focussed on the work in hand and not be a political bear-pit. We are there to represent all the residents, irrespective of the colour of the rosette we wear.


We are aware that we were elected to promote Liberal Democrat values and that if people vote Lib Dem it is because they want Lib Dem. We are not prepared to give up our values; if we lose, then we lose, but we will know why we lost. We were not prepared therefore to vote for anyone who is not a Lib Dem as leader of the Council, and we knew that we did not have the numbers to win unless Tory Cllrs, who had lost integrity, voted for a Lib Dem leader.

A leader the Conservative group had just elected for themselves would inevitably get all the Conservative leadership votes. Moreover, although we could not vote for a Conservative, we were also not prepared to vote for a morally and politically loose coalition of Labour, an ex-Tory leader and various independents. Such a leadership would have added to, not remedied, the chaos that currently exists.

Which is why we did not vote for the Conservative leader and why we did not vote for the Independent candidate.

Your Lib Dem Council Group leader has established a working relationship with the new conservative leadership to steady the ship. We have agreed to run a council the way it needs to be run. The chairs, committees & the appointment of Mayor are to be allocated in a proper fashion.

We will hold the Tories to account for the mismanagement of the past, present & future. We intend to make sure that they take the measures necessary to try and repair our broke (n) Borough.
We will hold the Tories to account by holding their "feet to the fire." We Demand Better!

In 2023, at the next Borough Council election, we will put the proposition to Residents that they are better off under the Liberal Democrats and would benefit from a Council that puts their needs first and that they should increase the number of Lib Dem Councillors at the ballot box.

Thank you for all the support shown to us.

Sashi Mylvaganam

Group Leader - Lib Dems (Surrey Heath)

Sashi.mylvaganam@surreyheath.gov.uk