120505 Local Democracy

Letter to Surrey Advertiser

Sir

I read with interest the letters of Mr Slade and Alderman Bridger and the comments of our Council Leader (Surrey Ad 4th May) and, having spoken at the Committee meeting to which he referred, I can clarify a few points for your readers.

Peter Slade is absolutely right about the crucial role the Philharmonic (GPO) plays in the image and cultural outreach and vitality of Guildford – so much so that all of the Councillors barring perhaps Cllr Meredith were vocal in support of retaining the GPO in some form and gave unequivocal backing to a requirement for the Chief Executive and lead Councillor Jen Powell to revert back without delay with a clear fact-based recommendation as to the future of the GPO.

Councillor Rooth – as is so often his way – has decided to make his views plain, to the complete disenfranchisement of the remaining councillors and, by extension, all those of us who voted for them.

David Hill, our Chief Executive (stand-in Strategic Director, Returning Officer and general factotum), was very clear – even to the point of erroneously interrupting Cllr Reeves mid-flow – to make the point that the future of two council staff’s positions should not be discussed frivolously nor be the subject of premature rumour and gossip.  This intervention by an officer attending the meeting by virtue of delivering a report, was tacitly approved of by Cllr Rooth despite audible gasps from the public gallery and around the committee table.

It is surely inappropriate for elected councillors in a Council Committee to be silenced by either the Leader or the Chief Executive, especially if the Leader is then going to repeat the apparent transgression on your pages a few days later.

Turning to the substance of Cllr Rooth’s comments, he chose to rely on figures and references in the (Chief Executive) Officer’s report which had been derided by the Committee as unsatisfactory and inadequate, and he has decided to adopt a somewhat dangerous tack of equating subsidies to Band D Council tax in a way that would certainly call into question the overall funding of G-Live.

Cllr Rooth perpetuates the myth that all it is costing Guildford is £328,000 per year to subsidise 250 concerts.  My own presentation to the Committee (a copy of which can be made available on request and is a public document) made it clear that the total capital cost in terms of actual development and the receipts of sale foregone (had we allowed the University to accommodate and construct the hall on its site) was in the region of £45m or £346 per head of population across the Borough IN ADDITION to the annual subsidy (or, overall, an annualised subsidy of the entire Borough rates income from almost 67,000 ratepayers!, using the Band D contribution to Guildford of £140 per year and an assumed capital return of only 2%,).

The capital itself would, in all probability, have been enough to make a major contribution towards solving the traffic congestion issues in Guildford’s town centre (Surrey County Council’s problem, so apparently not of interest).  Ironically, by resolving the gyratory system, this would have made Guildford more attractive for investment and would have enhanced the value of GBC’s (our) remaining holdings in Guildford (probably even to the extent of replenishing the capital account by value).

The abject failure of the leadership (Chief Executive or Leader) to develop a clear vision for any aspects of life and work in Guildford is already harming Guildford’s reputation, lowering our asset values and systematically destroying the attractiveness (social, physical, cultural, etc.) of the town and Borough.

It is time for a rethink, and it is time to empower all of the Councillors to truly represent their constituents.  Cllr Rooth should remember that he was elected a Councillor with 854 out of the 1085 votes cast in his ward – the Borough has an electorate in the region of 95,000 voters.

Do not neuter or stifle the Full Council.  It needs (and we need it) to agree a clear vision for Guildford and to ensure everything the Council does is working towards achieving the shared objectives – and this needs to be done with the widest possible engagement with Guildford.

As for the Philharmonic, I believe it still has a vital role to play in attracting business and visitors to our great town.  I accept others may not agree.  I simply want an open, unskewed discussion that is not interfered with by our not-necessarily-representative leadership.

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