David Hodge, Leader of Surrey County Council has a huge "black hole" to fill with a rumoured £250 million deficit to make up over the next three years. He says that "at this stage it is important that the Council start wide ranging engagement and consultation with our residents, communities, businesses and partners, ahead of setting the budget in the new year. The five specific areas for consultation are described below.
Our aim is to focus resources on families who need our support most so they get help early and we can try to help them not to need social care services in the future. As part of our overall family resilience approach we want to create a network of hubs around the county which support children right up until they are 11 rather than five as now. With these targeted in areas with most need.
We are consulting on proposals to close some centres but the service is not just about buildings - outreach workers will visit families in their homes and we could work with partners to provide the right help at the right time.
We currently have 58 children's centres. The proposal is for 19 main centres to continue and another eight to become satellite centres. This means that 31 current centres would close and we would seek to find alternative uses for the buildings.
However, in total, there would be 21 main centres and nine satellites, because it's proposed that two new main centres would be opened, one in Horley and one in Dorking, at a site where some family services are already delivered. In addition, another satellite would be established, in Addlestone.
Concessionary bus fares
We currently provide benefits over and above the requirements of the national scheme We are one of a few areas in the country still offering bus users both the additional concessions covered in the consultation - free travel on a disabled person's bus pass at any time (before 9.30am and after 11pm on weekdays) and free companion bus passes. Only around two per cent of journeys under the scheme are made before 9.30 in the morning and these proposed changes would bring us into line with most other councils.
Libraries and cultural services
More people are using our online services with fewer visiting in person, there's been a 25% drop in visits since 2010. So we're looking at how we can do things differently to fit better with modern life. We also spend more on libraries than similar councils - £14 per person compared with £9.89 for average county council.
We want to hear people's views on how we could reshape services based on some core principles - such as whether libraries could come together with a range of local services under one roof; how technology could be used to offer more access; how libraries enable people to learn and access information; what role libraries could play in strengthening communities and the opportunities for volunteers.
Special Education Needs & Disabilities (SEND)
Our proposals include giving support as early as possible and identify needs earlier which would be better for those who need help. We want views on how we ensure children's voices are heard, how we provide support nearer to home and reduce the need for children to go to schools out of the county. We plan to create an extra 350 specialist school places in Surrey over the next two years.
Overall the proposed changes could mean better outcomes for children and families. And at a time when government funding is failing to keep pace with the big increase in children needing help.
Community Recycling Centres
The financial pressures we're facing are severe so we have no choice but to look again at whether savings can be found at community recycling centres. We have to consider closing some centres which are used by fewer people and process less waste.
Surrey currently has 15 Community Recycling Centres - three options are being considered in the consultation:
1. Closing four smaller, less-used centres in Bagshot, Cranleigh, Dorking and Warlingham and increasing the number of days a week that Leatherhead, Camberley and Caterham open from six to seven. The four centres only handle around a tenth of the total waste.
2. Closing six smaller, less-used centres at Bagshot, Cranleigh, Dorking, Farnham, Lyne (Chertsey) and Warlingham and investing savings into opening the remaining nine centres seven days a week while also increasing the number of staff and looking at improving facilities and technology. Less than a fifth of waste is handled by these six centres.
3. Closing the same six centres and changing the opening times at the remaining nine. Between October and March they would open for five days a week avoiding closing at the most popular times. Savings would be invested in opening the centres seven days a week from April to September when opening times would also be extended into the evening where possible. In addition the number of staff would be increased and improvements to facilities and technology considered.
I know that some of the proposals will not be popular but we have to change how we do things. We need to target the resources we do have in the areas where we can make the biggest difference to people's lives. By working together with other organisations across Surrey and working better with communities, we can provide best possible support with the resources available to us, especially to those that are most vulnerable.
The council will be publicising the consultations widely and will provide members with materials that you can use to promote the consultations. We'd appreciate your help with raising awareness of the consultations with residents, communities and organisations in your area.
David Hodge CBE
Leader of the Council"
With such a pressing need to cut costs one does cynically ponder on whether these proposals are already set in stone, and much will depend upon the volume of resident and Councillor response to the proposals. Once the links to these consultations are published we will ensure these are highlighted on this site and we encourage everyone to respond. Apathy will just be a "green light" for these proposed cuts to go ahead.