Surrey County Council Consultations

Mole Valley District Council has responded in full.

Councillor Vivienne Michael, Leader of Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) has responded to the future of

  • Children's Centres
  • Community Recycling Centres
  • Concessionary Bus Travel
  • Library and Cultural Services
  • Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

While MVDC welcomes the opportunity to comment on the proposals, we did not consider the consultations fit for purpose. In general the structure of the consultations was found to be difficult to follow and lacking in information and supporting evidence. In addition, many of the questions in the web based questionnaire seem to be designed in such a way as to ensure support for plans which are already well advanced. Given the strength of our concerns it was concluded that it was more appropriate to write to explain these in some detail. These points are made in the context of having had a debate on the proposals regarding Children's Centres and Community Recycling Centres at our Council meeting on 4 December 2018 where specific resolutions were approved unanimously by Members. In addition, all Members were invited to attend a presentation by Surrey County Council (SCC) Officers at a special meeting of the Mole Valley District Local Committee. This was followed by a meeting of MVDC Members to discuss points they wished to be made in this response.

Children's Centres

We believe this specific consultation to be deeply flawed. Not only is it very difficult to establish what is actually being consulted on, with detail being buried in the body of the electronic questionnaire, but it is also very misleading. In particular, while much detail is included regarding the positive transformation SCC wants to achieve in respect of the Family Resilience Model, there is no information at all regarding the proposal to reduce funding to children's centres across Mole Valley by 58%. This is disingenuous and unacceptable.

It is proposed that, in future, children's centre services across Mole Valley will cover a wider geographic area than at the current time (taking in the additional population currently served from Dovers Green Children's Centre in Reigate and Banstead). In addition, they will take on responsibility for providing targeted support to those children, aged 0 -11, in greatest need (as opposed to universal and targeted support for those aged 0-5). It is anticipated that they will do this with less than half of their current funding - this is simply not achievable. Having discussed this with the Children's Centre in Dorking a number of services will have to cease and a number will see costs to residents rise (see Appendix 1). While many of these services are universal it is important to note that they provide the opportunity to identify those in need at the very earliest opportunity. It is hard to understand how this new approach will help SCC improve its early help and intervention offer.

At the current time services are provided out of two Children's Centres in Mole Valley (Dorking and Leatherhead) with an additional satellite site in Dorking. Both centres provide high quality services and Dorking is rated by Ofsted as outstanding. Both centres have only recently successfully been recognised by the healthy children's centres scheme.

Having considered the figures for income deprivation affecting children, it appears that a decision has been made to close the Leatherhead centre and retain both the centre and satellite site in Dorking. It is our view that the statistical model on which this decision has been based is fundamentally flawed. Whilst the Indices of Multiple Deprivation no longer measures North Leatherhead Ward in its entirety as the most deprived Ward in the District, at a more granular level, one area of North Leatherhead ranks 2nd to the Goodwyns area at a Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) as the most deprived LSOA in the District. Therefore the reality is that there continues to be a significant number of children in need in north Leatherhead. Indeed, more than half of the children currently being supported by children's centres across Mole Valley live in the Leatherhead reach area. The proposal to retain two sites in Dorking and none in Leatherhead makes no sense, especially in the absence of any regular low-cost public transport from north Leatherhead to the Dorking centre.

Likewise, we understand that it is proposed that Mole Valley will be in the SE Quadrant alongside RBBC and Tandridge. We find this bizarre and it is our view that Leatherhead families might be better served in the NE Quadrant with Epsom & Ewell to which better transport links exist and with which local residents are familiar as they access Epsom General Hospital and other services in that area.

While proposals for closing the Leatherhead centre are very clear within the consultation, the plan regarding the resourcing and shape of future provision is very unclear. It appears to rely on community outreach and an increased dependency on voluntary organisations and volunteers. In reality this will be hard to achieve, not least because of limited community facilities in the area. Even if a suitable venue was identified, there is no evidence included in the proposals to reassure MVDC that families requiring access to targeted services will feel comfortable receiving these in a venue which is concurrently used for other purposes. The alternative is that families will be forced to make long journeys to other centres. If they rely on public transport this is very limited across MV and is expensive as stressed above. In addition, while voluntary organisations do an excellent job, the consultation is silent on how they will be resourced and trained to do this. This is of particular concern as our local Citizens Advice Bureau have advised that recruitment of volunteers is becoming a general problem because of increasing demands from many organisations. The possibility of recruitment on the scale suggested by SCC does not seem a practical proposition. It is also difficult to understand how volunteers can be expected to deliver services previously provided by specialist professional staff.

While, given time, there may well be an innovative solution which enables a wide range of services (both targeted and universal) to be delivered at a reduced cost, the implementation of the proposals as outlined in the consultation will undoubtedly result in significant gaps in provision at the very least, in the short term. This will have a detrimental impact on a significant number of families and will undoubtedly lead to a loss of key staff who have spent many years building up the trust of the families in the communities within which they work (89% and 78% of children living in the Dorking and Leatherhead reach areas respectively are registered with their local children's centre at the current time).  

In conclusion, MVDC is opposed to the proposed closure of the Leatherhead children's centre and any significant reductions in funding for the services provided by the Dorking children's centres. We want to continue to engage with you to consider options that would lead to a reversal of these proposals and ensure the retention of adequately funded children's centres in Leatherhead and Dorking. 

Community Recycling Centres

MVDC is very concerned that significant decisions regarding the future of Community Recycling Centre (CRC)s have been taken without any prior engagement or consultation with the Council.

MVDC is particularly aggrieved that, all options included in the consultation result in the closure of the Dorking CRC. While this decision seems to be linked to the size of centre there is limited information included to explain the rationale and, despite requesting additional information, this has not been provided by SCC. As such, the consultation is again deeply flawed. While the Dorking CRC is one of the smaller sites, given that opening hours were reduced last year and the range of materials it accepts was restricted, the tonnage recycled is significant. As such, it is disingenuous of SCC to say that the Dorking CRC is one of the least used sites.

While MVDC recognises that the current facilities need improvement in terms of access and health and safety of queuing traffic on the approaches, the failure to provide an alternative to closure devalues the process and removes the one option that most residents would wish to pursue.  As such, the consultation is of little value in terms of judging the requirements of the community and the views of residents.

MVDC opposes the proposed closure of the Dorking CRC and would urge SCC to retain it and consider alternatives such as making the site bigger and better, changing opening hours and working with other agencies, including MVDC, to assist in maintaining this facility. MVDC would welcome the opportunity to discuss any options that would lead to the retention of the Dorking CRC.

Members are particularly concerned that, should SCC proceed to close this facility together with the CRC at Cranleigh, the nearest alternative will be Leatherhead or Earlswood (Redhill). This will result in residents having to travel a significant distance, taking considerable time (up to an hour round trip) and increasing energy use and CO2 emissions. Indeed, over one third of residents will have to travel more than 5 miles to access their nearest CRC resulting in a disproportionate impact on Mole Valley residents. This is unrealistic and clearly contrary to the 2102 WRAP Household Waste Recycling Centre guidance which suggests reasonable minimum levels of CRC provision. MVDC is also concerned that residents in the south of the District may also be precluded from using CRCs in Crawley and Horsham if West Sussex CC introduce a ban on out of county use of the facilities.

Wait times at Leatherhead and other sites will increase, thereby inconveniencing residents in those areas too. Given that waste fleets from Mole Valley, Epsom, Woking and Elmbridge currently use the Leatherhead CRC it is anticipated that they will have longer turnaround times which will significantly impact on the efficiency of our collection services and could increase SCC's disposal costs. Not only will longer queues at the Leatherhead CRC have financial consequences but there are also safety concerns. The queues already involve refuse and recycling vehicles queuing alongside private vehicles and at peak times the queues extend back onto the main road posing a considerable traffic hazard. There have been incidents at the site in the past, particularly as a result of the narrow access road. These difficulties are likely to be exacerbated with up to an additional 2000 vehicles a week to the site. Should these proposals be implemented, improvements to the access road will be essential in the interests of safety.

There is also concern that more residents will, rather than make a trip to the CRC, choose to dispose of their waste through their black bins. This would have a significant impact on waste collection and disposal services and reduce the amount of waste recycled. Alternatively, residents may choose to burn wood and garden waste with an unacceptable increase in pollution and in some cases nuisances requiring enforcement action.

Following the restriction of hours last year, the National Trust, which owns land in the vicinity of the Dorking CRC, reported a £30k increase in the cost of dealing with fly tipping. It is anticipated that these costs could significantly increase should the CRC be completely closed. Clearly any increase of fly tipping on MVDC land would result in our having to bear additional costs.

While MVDC is totally opposed to closure of the Dorking CRC, should SCC decide to proceed with the proposal to close it, then the facilities at Leatherhead must be significantly improved and it must be open seven days a week for extended hours throughout the year.

With regard to charging - the proposed increases in charges seem reasonable as does the proposal to introduce a fee to support the administration of the permit scheme.

Transforming Libraries and Cultural Services

MVDC welcomes the opportunity to comment on the emerging transformation strategy and acknowledges the five key themes outlined in the consultation.

The consultation explains that usage of libraries has decreased and undoubtedly this is true. However, we would urge caution over placing too much weight on this and the information presented in the decline charts, particularly as opening hours have reduced over a number of years in an effort to minimise running costs and it is unclear whether any allowances for change in hours has been made in the figures. 

While MVDC can see the benefits of libraries being an integral part of thriving community hubs, and the potential for them to provide an improved range of facilities, further information is required regarding how these would be developed, just what other services would be provided and how services could be delivered over extended hours. It is our view that these hubs should be located in the same area as current libraries in order to avoid residents having to travel long distances to access facilities, especially in view of their usage by those disadvantaged by age or disability. Members are particularly keen to ensure that there is open access to modern IT facilities and support for users to assist them to job hunt, prepare CVs, and apply for universal credit etc. Facilities to encourage children to read books are also essential. In addition, MVDC would be supportive of hubs providing help to users to enable them to access historical records and improve the cultural information on offer to local communities, particularly for those on low incomes.

MVDC would welcome further discussions with SCC as plans develop. In the meantime, please note that MVDC operates its Help shop and kiosk from the building in which the library and Registry Office is located in Leatherhead. Early engagement is essential should there be any intention to change the use of this building in the future.

Concessionary Bus Travel

MVDC understands that it is anticipated that the proposed changes, if implemented, could achieve £400k savings. While the consultation does not identify how much of this saving relates to travel and how much to administration of the scheme, we understand that all savings contribute to achieving a balanced budget. However, it is important to measure any potential savings against any potential impacts.  MVDC believes that the negative impact of these proposed changes would outweigh the relatively modest savings.

While we noted that the proposals all impact on discretionary elements of the concessionary travel scheme, the impact on those over 65 years of age, the disabled and their companions is still significant and, due to the demographics of our population, residents of Mole Valley are disproportionately affected, particularly those who live in rural areas (20.7% of Mole Valley residents are over 65 (17.1% Surrey), 14.7% of Mole Valley residents have a disability (13.5% Surrey) and 26% of residents live in rural areas within Mole Valley (13% Surrey) of which 21% are over 65). 

MVDC is particularly concerned about the impact on disabled residents who rely on public transport to access employment, attend medical appointments and socialise. The removal of companion passes may increase social isolation or, alternatively, increase costs for those residents with a disability who rely on bus transport.

MVDC does not support the proposals. However, should SCC decide to proceed, we would urge you, at the very least, to consider retaining the discretionary elements of the current scheme which benefit those with a disability and their companions. We would also encourage SCC to engage with community transport providers, such as Mole Valley Life, to consider if there is the potential to work together in an innovative way to extend the provision of community transport across the county. 

Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

MVDC welcomes the opportunity to comment on the proposals at an early stage. Members agree that children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) should be able to live, learn and grow up locally. They are aware that other areas appear to ensure that children and young people with SEND are better served with more local provision at a lower cost.

With regard to the nature of SEND provision, Members would like to see the consideration of a range of different approaches to learning support for children with SEND such as boxing, meditation, mindfulness and music therapy if these are not already in place. They are keen to ensure that Surrey uses such innovative methods in the future.   

While supporting the principle of providing extra places across Surrey to meet a wide range of needs, without detailed information on these needs it is impossible to comment on whether or not a figure of 350 is appropriate, or realistic. Likewise, no breakdown is provided regarding the number of places to be provided via support in mainstream schools, specialist units in mainstream schools and Special Education Schools. In the absence of such information it is impossible to assess if the proposed funding will be sufficient to ensure that extra pressure is not placed on existing staff and schools, with an inevitable negative impact on the children they currently teach and support.

MVDC is very concerned about the proposal to divert funding from mainstream schools in future years as it is commonly known that schools funding is stretched already. For one local school the amount of funding to be diverted would be equivalent to employing 2 classroom assistants who already support children with SEND. It is hard to understand how this will ensure that there really will be additional capacity in the system.

While we understand that, locally, Starhurst School is to re-open this is not referenced in the consultation and no information is provided as to the type of need to be supported. MVDC seeks reassurance that the intention is to prioritise children with SEND in Mole Valley.

In conclusion, while MVDC recognises that SCC needs to make significant savings it has significant concerns regarding each of the five proposals. Be assured that as a District we are anxious to engage positively with SCC to explore how best to mitigate the results of changes being contemplated in all five areas. We recognise that some of this need arises because of significant reductions in government funding over recent years and intend to write to our local MP's requesting their support for a proper local government settlement in Surrey which reduces to need for unsustainable cuts of this nature.

Should you wish to discuss the issues raised in our response please do not hesitate to contact Karen Brimacombe, Chief Executive, on Karen.brimacombe@molevalley.gov.uk

Appendix A - impact of a 58% reduction in funding on services provided by Children's centres across MVDC

With this budget suggested by Surrey the following losses of service will be experienced:

Loss

Impact

Reduction in Play and Learn session from 6 per week to 0 across Mole Valley

Loss of contact with large proportion of the population of under 5s.

Loss of opportunity to identify need and intervene early.

Lack of opportunity to build relationships with families who may later need targeted support.

Lack of safe places to go with under 5s for those building up their confidence.

Baby groups from 4 to 0 across Mole Valley

Loss of opportunity for Breast feeding and healthy eating support.

Increased isolation for new parents.

Loss of preventative work encouraging attachment and development of supportive networks.

Loss of opportunity to identify need for targeted support and signposting to post natal depression support.

Loss of monthly dads group in North Leatherhead

Loss of engagement with fathers. Children's learning (especially boys) is improved when fathers engage with them.

Loss of Home Visiting service in Goodwyns for 18 month olds

Home learning environment of most needy children will not be enhanced. This will impact school readiness in most needy area.

No targeted work on the Traveller site. Currently visits are alternate weeks with a mobile CC.

Lower levels of school readiness from this community.

Closure of Toy Library in Leatherhead

Lack of new and imaginative resources for families to try at home. Negative impact on home learning environment

Closure of Soft Play sessions at Leatherhead

Loss of a resource for all the community

No Antenatal group sessions

Loss of support for expectant parents.

Increased isolation.

Parents will not gain confidence to care for new baby.

Pre school support network

Sharing of good practice will reduce.

Joined up work and information sharing will reduce.

Increases strain on pre schools and may lower outcomes for the children in settings.

May impact safeguarding outcomes

Visits to Toddler groups for support and information sharing

Less early identification of need.

Poor knowledge and skills in this volunteer workforce will not be addressed.

Few creche places offered for courses

Access to workshops will be much harder for families.

Services that will be reduced or need to be charged for:

Reduction in joint work with health providers by as only one delivery point across Mole valley instead of 2

Free Creche places for courses will not be possible

Fewer adult learning opportunities

One advice and information point instead of current 2 points to access this support

Less time for partnership working

Charges will increase for baby massage group as we can not subsidise these any longer

Outreach visits to home. The number of families that can be seen in a week will reduce by half due to staff reduction

Bump to baby session would need to be charged for but could be delivered monthly from various locations across Mole Valley






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