Good money goes after bad

Guildford high street. Credit: Emily Coady-Stemp

A cash-strapped council will spend up to £350,000 on an investigation into potential fraud in its housing department. Guildford Borough Council confirmed police are working alongside an accredited anti-fraud investigation unit to look into the issue, which came to light in July.

Work has begun to look into issues including overspending on contracts and problems with contract management regarding spend, compliance and delivery. While some costs will be met by the council’s housing department, such as the costs of interim and agency staff, other costs relating to the investigation and reviewing internal governance will be paid for out of the council’s day-to-day budget.

A report, to be discussed at a special meeting of the council’s corporate governance and standards committee on Wednesday (November 29), said allegations of potentially fraudulent activity had been raised, which may have caused financial loss to the council.

The report said: “In July 2023, an external investigation team was instructed to consider the allegations that there may have been some wrongdoing within the council in respect of the council’s relationship with one or more  contractors. An accredited anti-fraud investigation unit is working alongside the police in respect of this matter.”

Costs incurred to the council so far include an external investigation team from Reigate & Banstead Borough Council, forensic analysis costs, and legal advice. These costs could reach between £50,000 to £100,000 “dependent upon the volume of legal advice sought”. The remaining estimated £200,000-£250,000 would be spent on an internal governance review, including external experts, and “dedicated admin support”, according to meeting documents.

As well as pausing and reviewing some contractual works, the council will terminate some contractual arrangements. The report said: “The priority in recent weeks has been to stop the continuation of any potential wrongdoing, whilst supporting the delivery of the service to the council’s tenants.”

Following initial work to look at the “contract failures, to stop any potential wrongdoing and overspending, and to stabilise the service”, the council will now look at the “governance failures” that have occurred.
This will include setting up a Strategic Project Board for housing that the external investigation team will report to at least every month.

The council’s leader, Councillor Julia McShane (Lib Dem, Westborough) said Guildford would continue working with external authorities to deal with the matter “efficiently and thoroughly”. Cllr McShane, who is also the lead councillor for housing, said: “I understand that this has been a concerning time for our tenants. I want to reassure our tenants that their welfare continues to be our absolute focus. Our officers are working in a robust and diligent manner to ensure that we follow a methodical process throughout this very serious and sensitive matter.”

Richard Bates, the council’s interim finance chief told a meeting of the corporate governance and standards committee on Thursday (November 16) the number of jobs being looked into in the housing department was “immense”.

Speaking before the report for the November 29 meeting had been published, he said officers could not answer many questions relating to the housing department, because they did not want to interfere with the internal and external investigations.

Image: Guildford high street. Credit: Emily Coady-Stemp

East Surrey Hospital Inspection

East Surrey Hospital

Maternity services at East Surrey Hospital have been downgraded after inspectors flagged six key areas for improvement. A report following an inspection of the unit raised concerns with infection control, checks on emergency equipment and medicine management.

These areas were listed as steps that must be taken in order for the service to improve along with actions relating to audits, completing documents and safeguarding training for junior doctors.

The Redhill hospital, run by Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, maintains its overall outstanding rating from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), but an inspection of its maternity service took place in September.

‘Safety of women, birthing people and babies put at risk’: In a report published on November 15, inspectors said they visited the hospital as part of the CQC’s national maternity inspection programme.
The service was downgraded to requires improvement with inspectors saying medicines were “not always managed well”, care records were not always completed and leaders did not always implement improvements in a timely way.

Inspectors said: “Staffing levels did not always match the planned numbers, which put the safety of women, birthing people and babies at risk. The service was not always visibly clean, and there were times when equipment checks were not completed.”

As well as this, “adverse incidents” may have been contributed to by out-of-date policies and guidelines.
How has the hospital responded?

Tina Hetherington, chief nurse of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Delivering safe, quality care to our patients is our absolute priority. I want to apologise for where we haven’t got it right and the effect this may have on patient confidence in our maternity services. Rest assured that we are taking immediate action to address the issues raised by inspectors to ensure our patients receive the high-quality care they rightly expect.”

Inspectors said feedback from patients as part of the inspection showed there were “mixed views” about experiences of the service. The report said: “Feedback included about concerns about delays, poor communication, and support needing to improve. For example, being spoken to unkindly, short staffing, and not being listened to. Positive feedback commented on the reassurance and care given by staff, especially on delivery suite.”

Some areas ‘not always visibly free of dust, dirt, and bodily fluids’: Under the area of cleanliness, infection control and hygiene, inspectors said: “Staff did not always use equipment and control measures to protect women and birthing people, themselves, and others from infection. They did not  always keep equipment and the premises visibly clean, and we saw some staff were not in-line with uniform policy to minimise risk of infection. This included “several staff members” not routinely using gloves when they should,  creating an infection risk and bed spaces that were “not always visibly free of dust, dirt, and bodily fluids”.

Inspectors also said delays to discharge on the postnatal ward were negatively impacting on patient and staff experience, with delayed inductions and transfers to delivery suites in evidence.

The service had a rate “well below” the national rate of stillbirths, of between one and two stillbirths per 1,000 births, compares to 4 per 1000 births nationally.

Inspectors were also told by staff there were not enough midwives and managers to mitigate risks of short staffing, leading to “exhaustion and low morale”.

‘Robust improvement plan’ in place: Ms Hetherington said the trust recognised that the national shortfall across maternity had affected services. She said a recruitment drive had been launched this year and since the inspection 13 new midwives had started jobs, with a further five due to start in the coming weeks.

The chief nurse also said a “robust improvement plan” had been put in place since the inspection, which included tougher infection control measures, more frequent cleanliness checks, and more thorough daily safety checks of medicines and specialist emergency care equipment. She added: “We are clear there is more work to do, but our maternity team are passionate about patient care. While the CQC highlighted many examples of good practice such as timely access to services and quick action on any identified patient risks, this report will help us focus our efforts and engage with our patients through forums such as our maternity voices partnership, on making the immediate and long-term improvements that will deliver for our patients and their families year after year.”

Inspectors also raised examples of “outstanding practice” in the report, highlighting an inclusion midwife with a specific focus on promoting equality and diversity for staff and patients, and tackling health inequalities.

Leaders monitored incidents and outcomes for health inequalities and ethnicity to ensure no one was put at additional risk because of their ethnicity or personal circumstances, the report said.

How Surrey MPs voted on ceasefire

Parliament vote

No Surrey MPs voted in Parliament for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza. The vote took place on Wednesday (November 15) on an amendment to the King’s Speech that was put forward by Scottish National Party MPs.

The amendment called for government to “uphold international law and protect all civilians in Israel and Palestine”, to “condemn the horrific killings by Hamas and the taking of hostages” and to “reaffirm that there must be an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.

It also called for the “urgent release of all hostages and an end to the siege of Gaza to allow vital supplies of food, fuel, medicine and water to reach the civilian population”.

Of Surrey’s 11 MPs, six voted against the amendment, and the other five had no vote recorded.
The decades-long conflict in Israel and Gaza escalated and gained further international scrutiny on October 7 after a Hamas attack on Israel.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement remains on the ground supporting those affected and said there were more than 1.5million people displaced in Gaza, with more than 240 Israeli hostages being held.
The situation there was described by the charity as “deeply alarming and worsening every day”.

The King’s speech sets out the priorities for the coming Parliamentary session, and was delivered by King Charles for the first time as monarch on November 7.

The amendment calling for an immediate ceasefire was lost by 293 votes to 125.

The Labour Party saw eight shadow ministers and two parliamentary private secretaries leave their roles after going against leader Sir Keir Starmer’s order not to vote for the amendment.

Surrey’s MPs were all elected to represent the Conservative Party in Parliament.

Sir Paul Beresford, Chris Grayling and Dominic Raab have announced they will not be standing in the next general election, due to be held before January 2025.

Reigate MP Crispin Blunt confirmed he was the MP arrested on suspicion of rape and the possession of controlled substances on October 26. He was suspended by the Conservative Party and has been released by Surrey Police on conditional bail.

All the Surrey MP votes are listed in full below:

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) – No
Crispin Blunt (Reigate) – No vote recorded
Claire Coutinho MP (East Surrey) – No
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) – No
Chris Grayling MP (Epsom & Ewell) – No
Jeremy Hunt MP (South West Surrey) – No vote recorded
Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) – No vote recorded
Jonathan Lord (Woking) – No vote recorded
Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) – No vote recorded
Angela Richardson (Guildford) – No
Dr Ben Spencer (Runnymede and Weybridge) – No

Damning report on local prison

HMP High Down

The availability of drugs at one Surrey prison is a “critical threat to safety”, as inspectors said it had one of the highest positive test rates for illicit substances of all men’s prisons in England and Wales.

Inspectors pointed to 11 key concerns, highlighting four priority areas for HMP High Down in Banstead.
These were: too many acutely mentally unwell prisoners being held in the segregation unit; the availability and use of illicit drugs; increasing violence and prisoners feeling unsafe; and the prison not reaching its potential.

Charlie Taylor, chief inspector, said in his report that the drug situation in the prison “posed a threat to the stability of the prison, contributing to debt, bullying and fear”.

Other concerns raised included there being few incentives to behave well, high levels of self-harm, poor medicine supervision, long waits for dental  treatment and not enough support being offered to “large number of prisoners with limited skills in English and maths”.

The prison was inspected in July and August, with a report published on November 13 saying the regime there was “nowhere near what it should be”.

With a positive drug testing rate among the highest in adult male prisons in England and Wales, Mr Taylor said the facility had had a “turbulent few years” in its delayed transition to a category C training and resettlement prison. He said “a real commitment” from leaders and the prison service was needed to make sure High Down completed its transition and that it was “not yet close to fulfilling its function as a category C prison”.

The prison, which was built on the site of a former mental health hospital and opened as a category A local prison in 1992, had 1,171 prisoners at the time of the inspection, and an operational capacity of 1,180 prisoners.

A survey carried out during the inspection showed fewer minority ethnic prisoners said staff treated them with respect, at 57 per cent compared with 77 per cent of white prisoners.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “We have already taken decisive action to address the concerns raised in this report including bolstering our support for prisoners suffering from mental health issues.
“We are also strengthening the education and training on offer, including introducing a wider range of courses so offenders can gain the vital skills they need to turn their backs on crime.”

Availability of drugs ‘critical threat to safety’: In the survey 45 per cent of prisoners said it was easy to get hold of drugs, compared with 31 per cent at similar prisons.

In the three months leading up to the inspection, the positive drug test rate was “very high” at 33.73 per cent, and 21.08 per cent for psychoactive substances.

Inspectors said the widespread availability of drugs was causing high levels of prisoner debt and was “the main driver of violence which remained much too high”.

Despite having a proportion of positive drug tests among the highest of all men’s prisons in England and Wales, inspectors also said far too few tests were done on those suspected of using drugs. This meant users were not being discouraged, and inspectors said it was “disappointing” that reducing drugs coming in to the prison was not one of the prison’s priorities. Mr Taylor said: “The availability of drugs, in particular psychoactive substances, was a critical threat to safety.”

The report also pointed to steps being taken such as body scanners being used on those suspected of possessing drugs and joint working with police on the number of items entering the prison on drones and tackling staff corruption.

Prisoners spending ‘almost all day locked up’ in fear: Some prisoners spent “almost all day locked up” because they were afraid of bullying and violence, with some who had been assaulted by other prisoners and many in debt. Inspectors said: “Little was done to address the causes of their fear or to enable them to reintegrate with their peers.”

There were also concerns raised about officers not challenging poor behaviour and not supervising prisoners adequately.

Inspectors were told by staff told they saw “little point” in challenging poor behaviour because they lacked faith in the prison’s disciplinary procedures. The report said: “Too many prisoners felt unsafe. Safety was being undermined by violence and bullying, which were linked to drugs, very low wages, debt and a lack of full-time purposeful activity.”

A survey of prisoners also showed that 70 per cent of disabled prisoners felt unsafe at some point compared with 38 per cent of those without a disability. Inspectors also said: “There were still houseblocks where prisoners with a disability did not have an adequate personal emergency evacuation plan in place.”

As well as this, some prisoners being held in the segregation unit for an extended period were acutely mentally unwell, according to My Taylor’s report. There were also “chaotic scenes” seen by inspectors at medicine queues when officers did not supervise or control them well enough. Inspectors said this meant health care staff were “regularly distracted during the critical task of administering medicines, increasing the likelihood of error”.

‘Many prisoners did not have enough to do’: Inspectors said compared to other category C prisons, the regime at High Down “did not yet match” them, with a quarter of prisoners locked in their cells during the working day, described as “too many” in the report.

There were 200 unemployed prisoners and not enough activity places for those in the prison, which meant many prisoners did not have enough to do. The report said: “Many were limited to very basic and uninspiring work on the wing. Only for the few who were in full time work, was the prison offering an experience that was akin to employment in the community.”

Ofsted also inspected the provision at the prison, rating it inadequate overall.

A Storybook Dads programme, which helped prisoners record a story for their children to listen to at home, had been suspended due to a shortage of library staff. But Ofsted inspectors pointed to a monthly homework club where children could come into the prison to get help from their fathers as having “a relaxed atmosphere with both prisoners and their families enjoying themselves”.

What is done well at HMP High Down?

Inspectors said they saw “many positive and constructive interactions between staff and prisoners” including officers playing pool with inmates, despite poor behaviour not always being challenged.

Inspectors also said: “Prisoners on the drug-free living wing appreciated the respite from the high levels of drug use that took place elsewhere in the prison and here too support was provided by specialist staff. “There were also advanced plans to provide another more specialised unit for prisoners with personality disorders.”

The current prison governor has been in post since March 2022, and inspectors said: “If the governor and her team are to win over hearts and minds, they will need to increase significantly their visibility around the jail and improve the way they communicate with staff and prisoners.”

The report said governor Emily Martin had “developed a clear vision of how she wanted the prison to run and had begun to make progress”.

Related reports:

You could re-train to reform offenders

Image: HMP High Down from Google Maps

Epsom care home plans

Epsom Police station care home plan

Plans for a care home on the site of a former police station could finally be decided next week.
An application for an 86-bed care home for people with dementia in Church Street should have been decided at a cancelled planning meeting in April.

Now Epsom and Ewell’s planning committee is set to make a decision on Thursday, November 9.
Councillors will also decide whether or not to approve an application for another care home, on a site where Lidl failed in their bid to build a new store.

The Church Street plans, with the Church Street Conservation Area wrapping around the south and west ends of the site, have been scaled back from the previously submitted 96-bed application.

An officers’ report shows the building height has been reduced by one storey, after concerns were raised by planners about the impact it could have on the conservation area, designated heritage assets and trees on the site.

The conservation area includes contains 20 listed buildings including the grade II* St Martin’s Church, The Cedars and Ebbisham House.

With 31 car parking spaces in total, the application would not meet Epsom and Ewell Borough Council’s parking requirements.

But officers described the site as being in a “highly sustainable location” close to public transport and with the possibility of parking in nearby public car parks.

They have recommended councillors approve the application.

The applicant’s design and access statement said the developments objective, among others, were to: “Create a facility of excellence in the care and support of local people living with residential, nursing, dementia  and respite care needs.”

The future of the site of the former Organ and Dragon pub, in London Road, Ewell, will also be debated at the meeting.

The now-empty site has two approved planning applications on it, one for a development of 45 flats and one, approved in October 2022 for a 70-bed care home.

Also recommended for approval, the latest application is for a larger 81-bed care home, with an additional storey having been added to the plans, making it five storeys at its highest.

Plans also include car and cycle parking, an ambulance and deliveries bay, a widened pavement and a new pedestrian crossing at the busy junction of London Road and Ewell Road.

The layout of the site is “virtually the same” as the previously approved applications, according to an officers’ report.

The report said that since the previous scheme was approved, other providers had come forward expressing interest in additional beds which removed previous limitations under plans for a single care home provider.

When the previous application was approved, councillors raised concerns that the applicant did not have experience running care homes, though this is not a requirement when considering a planning application.

Image: Plans for the former Epsom police station and ambulance station site in Church Street, from Design and Access statement. Credit: Hunters

Related Reports:

Two Epsom brownfield developments?

From custody to caring – new plans for Epsom’s old nick.

Anti-Yob Cat protection petition

Frank the cat

“Heartbroken” pet owners claim a group of teenagers are “trapping cats” for their dogs to “rip apart”.
A petition signed by 3,675 people is calling for more action from the RSPCA and the police to stop the acts around Claygate and Chessington and surrounding areas.

Natalie Harwood, who started the petition, said her “beautiful” cat Frank had been killed, describing him as “the smallest, most gentle, loving, friendly cat” who was killed “in the worst way”. She added: “We’ve had him since the day he was born, he was only two and a half years old and we are absolutely heartbroken.”

A Surrey Police spokesperson confirmed there had been two reports of incidents involving cats being taunted or harmed by a group of boys around Surbiton Golf Club, but said there had been no arrests made. They said they were aware of ongoing concerns of anti-social behaviour in the area on and around the golf course, and were working closely with the Metropolitan Police to share information, given the area borders London.

The spokesperson said: “In both cases, it was reported that dogs were involved and chased the cats. Officers are conducting further enquiries and anyone who witnessed an attack on a cat or any other animal can get in touch.”

They also said the force would be increasing police presence in the area, “specifically looking out for anti-social behaviour of any kind including animal welfare issues”.

Ms Harwood told the LDRS she and her family spent two weeks searching the golf course after Frank went missing in October, before being told via an anonymous phone call that the beloved pet had been ripped apart by dogs. She said she’d had reports of boys “trying to pull cats from under cars”, climbing trees to get a cat down, or using rakes trying to hit it down with their dogs “waiting at the bottom”.

An RSPCA spokesperson said dog owners had a legal responsibility under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to keep their dog under control in a public place, and that this legislation was enforced by the police. They added: “This must have been a very upsetting and distressing incident for the owners of the cats mentioned and we are so sorry to hear they sadly lost their lives. We are concerned to hear about wildlife being targeted in this area.”

Clint Whittaker, general manager at the golf club, said the club had reported trespassing issues to local police but nothing concerning animal welfare. He said the club had invested £100,000 in installing security fencing around a portion of its boundary but that it didn’t cover all access points because of a  public footpath running across the property.

Mr Whittaker added: “These incidents tend to occur outside of club operating hours, therefore we are only made aware from neighbours when they occur.”

The change.org petition said such incidents had been happening in “Claygate, Chessington and surrounding areas for months.” It also claimed people were “catapulting and shooting at all animals including cats, horses, foxes and deer”.

The petition said: “There’s witnesses, video footage and pictures of these boys and the things they are doing but the police and RSPCA don’t do anything.” The Met Police has been contacted for comment.

Surrey Police ask that anyone who has witnessed such incidents contact them quoting PR/45230118653. The RSPCA spokesperson said they would encourage anyone with serious concerns about animal welfare issues to contact the RSPCA inspector line on 0300 123 8018 or the police.

Image: Frank the cat, a cat who went missing and whose owner Natalie Harwood started a petition calling for an end to animal cruelty after reports of a group of boys attacking

The cost of Surrey’s failed ULEZ challenge

Court hammer and cash

Surrey County Council spent £150,000 on a failed court challenge to the ULEZ expansion.

The county council together with the London boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon launched a legal challenge to the expansion of the zone, taking it to the High Court.

Objecting to the plans for the zone’s expansions, district and borough councils along the border called for a scrappage scheme to be extended to Surrey residents, and for delaying the date of the expansion.
The expansion of the zone, which aims to cut harmful pollution in London, meant it reached down to the borders of Surrey, leading to concerns about residents travelling over the border for work, school or medical appointments.

Entering the zone in a non-compliant car, usually petrol cars registered before 2005 and diesel cars registered before September 2015, costs drivers £12.50 per day. But a ruling in July determined there was no legal impediment to the expansion, which came in to force in August.

Speaking at the time of the High Court’s decision, the county council’s leader, Councillor Tim Oliver (Conservative, Weybridge), said while the council respected the court decision, it was “incredibly disappointing”.

He added: “This has always been about protecting Surrey residents, many of whom will now be significantly socially and financially impacted by the Mayor’s decision as they go about essential, everyday journeys, without any mitigation in place to minimise this.

“Our concerns, which have never been addressed by The Mayor despite our continued efforts, forced these legal proceedings to ensure we did all we possibly could to have the voice of our residents heard.”

A TfL spokesperson said: “Following the conclusion of the judicial review, the court ordered the claimants to pay our legal costs and to pay £280,000 on account, which has been received. We will be seeking the remainder of our costs in accordance with the order”.

A county council spokesperson confirmed a £44,000 payment had been agreed for the further contribution last week rather than the full £56,000 as requested by TfL.

Surrey County Council has confirmed its total costs for the challenge come to £139,528.20. This figure includes a £100,000 contribution to TfL costs and a £39,528.20 contribution to the five councils’ total costs.

TfL’s costs will be split between the five councils which brought the challenge.

Related reports:

Signs of Surrey resistance to ULEZ continue

London Mayor confirms drive of ULEZ to Epsom border. ULEZ explainer.

High Court gives ULEZ the green light to Epsom’s borders

ULEZ court challenge begins

Image: copyright Epsom and Ewell Times Ltd

Day travelcards to be scrapped?

Epsom railway station

Surrey County Council could call on central government to intervene in “discriminatory” plans to scrap day travelcards in to London.

The travelcards mean Surrey residents can travel in to the capital on a single ticket for use on Transport for London (TfL) services including the underground, bus, tram, Docklands Light Railway and London Overground. However their future is in doubt.

If day travelcards are withdrawn, it will mean Surrey residents would need to buy separate tickets for rail travel and TfL journeys. TfL has given notice that it will withdraw from the funding agreement for travel cards, with a mayoral decision on the matter showing the arrangements meant TfL was “effectively under-funded” at a cost of around £40m a year.

A Surrey County Council meeting on Tuesday (October 10) will debate a motion from the councillor responsible for transport, infrastructure and growth calling for London’s mayor to withdraw the proposals.
Councillor Matt Furniss (Conservative, Shalford) called the proposal “discriminatory” and will ask the council’s leader to write to Sadiq Khan outlining the impact on Surrey residents, the negative impact on the economy of London and “the need to abandon plans to remove day travelcards”.

His motion will also ask the council’s leader, Cllr Tim Oliver (Conservative, Weybridge) to write to the Secretary of State for Transport “urging him to intervene in this matter”.

A TfL spokesperson said central government demands for the organisation to save money and “generate significant amounts of additional revenue” had led to proposals to stop accepting day travelcards on the TfL network.

They said the Mayor had “reluctantly” instructed TfL to give six month’s notice to withdraw from the travelcard agreement, but that the decision was reversible.

The spokesperson said: “This is the first stage in a process and there are no changes to tickets at this time. This is an operational decision that has been taken now to ensure that TfL meets the requirements of its funding agreement, but TfL continues to look for alternative options.”

A Mayoral decision on the plans said an assessment had found that customers travelling from outside London may see prices go up if day travelcards were withdrawn.

It said: “This is because the current travelcard agreement pays an amount to TfL for these tickets that is well below the price of the same tickets sold within London; TfL is effectively under-funded by the travelcard agreement at a total cost of approximately £40m a year.

“As a result, this proposal is estimated to generate approximately £40m per year for TfL, which will form part of the additional revenue mandated by government for TfL to achieve.”

In his motion, Cllr Furniss said: “The proposals to remove day travelcards constitute an unfair, unacceptable and expensive levy on our residents who wish or need to travel to London. The proposals have deliberately targeted the removal of the day travelcard as a method to generate additional income for TfL. It is anticipated by the Mayor’s own consultation that the withdrawal of day travelcards will result in rail operators ceasing to sell Zone 1-6 travelcards.”

Opposition councillors will call for TfL, along with the Department for Transport (DfT) and train operators, to come together to find a solution, and for zone 6 to be expanded to include some Surrey stations.

Cllr Catherine Powell (Farnham Residents, Farnham North), leader of the Surrey residents’ association and independent group on the county council, said key stakeholders needed to work together to find alternative funding in order to keep day travelcards.

She told the LDRS: “We need to encourage the use of public transport as part of moving towards net zero, to remove day travelcards would be a retrospective step.”

The TfL spokesperson said: “While this six-month notice-period is now underway, this decision remains reversible and does not therefore mean that day travelcards will be withdrawn. TfL is keen to work collaboratively with the DfT and Rail Delivery Group to discuss options that would allow day travelcards to continue to be provided, while ensuring TfL can meet the requirements of the funding settlement with government.” They said active discussions were ongoing.

The Labour group leader on the county council, Cllr Robert Evans (Stanwell and Stanwell Moor), said TfL was “not being funded properly” and couldn’t do everything it wanted to do.

Also calling for more Surrey stations to be included in zone 6, Cllr Evans added: “You can argue why is transport for London giving subsidies to Surrey? Why would expect them to do so?”

Councillors for the Green Party and Labour will put forward a suggested amendment to the motion, removing the call for the transport secretary to intervene.

Cllr Jonathan Essex (Redhill East), the Green group leader, said: “We want this situation to actually be resolved by bringing together in an open and transparent way the people who need to resolve it.
“I hope that by putting the amendment to the motion down, we will try to shift this from a political argument into an acceptance that people need to get round the table and actually resolve this.”

The motion will instead call for the leader to write to Sadiq Khan and the transport secretary to request a joint meeting with TfL, DfT and train operating companies.

This meeting would “discuss the impact of the current travelcard proposals in Surrey and other areas neighbouring London” and the need to “agree a fair funding settlement to resolve this matter”.

The amendment will request that the negotiations also look to extend zone 6 to areas of Surrey bordering London “to increase Surrey  residents’ direct access to contactless TfL fares and so cheaper train travel”.
The meeting will be held at the council’s Reigate headquarters at 10am on Tuesday, October 10.

Image – Epsom Downs station. TheFrog001 CCO 1.0

Child psychological waiting in Surrey eats savings

psychologist and child

Families are using their “savings and holiday money” to pay for private educational psychologist assessments having been told they would wait two years for an assessment through the council, a select committee has heard.

One councillor said all families who had been told they faced a two-year wait and had opted to fund a private assessment should get their money back and Surrey County Council would fork out for the refund.
Questions were also raised about how well the council was communicating with parents over eligibility and the scheme to refund parents, at a meeting of the county council’s children, families, lifelong learning and culture select committee on Monday (October 2).

The meeting heard about the steps being taken to reduce the wait times for children getting an education, health and care plan (EHCP), which is put in place to ensure children with additional needs or disabilities get the provision they need at school.

In 2022, Surrey was completing just 26 per cent of EHCPs within the legally required 20-week timeframe, down from 65 per cent in 2021. The council is aiming to be back over the target of 60 per cent of EHCPs issued within 20 weeks by the end of May 2024.

For the summer and autumn terms of 2023, a temporary reimbursement offer is in place for parents, up to a maximum of £925, where private advice has been obtained and where no further Surrey County Council professional advice is required.

The offer is part of the steps being taken to try to improve the council’s speed of getting through EHCPs, with a shortage of educational psychologists being one of the factors behind the delays.

Councillor Rachael Lake (Conservative, Walton) said she had been in contact with a family who were told in summer 2022 there would be a two-year wait, and challenged the policy of only allowing reimbursements in specific circumstances. Cllr Lake said: “Last summer when this family was told that it was a minimum two year waiting list, in writing, they chose to use their family savings and holiday money for an assessment which Surrey County Council has accepted in its totality and has acted upon, for which they are extremely grateful. Had they not spent this money, they would be one of the people still waiting this summer with another year to go.”

She said she thought it was “wrong” that this family could not apply for the money to be given back to them, saying she thought any family told they would have a minimum of two years to wait should be eligible.

One parent spoke to the select committee and said they only became aware that private assessments could be considered on September 22 ,when they were told by the caseworker helping with their daughter’s request.

The parent was sent a link to a web page which no longer existed and said she had only found out that there had been an extension to the eligibility criteria when asking questions ahead of the select committee meeting.

She said: “I commend the committee’s efforts to try and reduce waiting lists, but without effective communication, both internally to your staff and externally, the decisions and policies that you make are meaningless.”

The meeting’s chair said it was clear the council had a “challenge communicating with parents and carers”.

Cllr Fiona Davidson (Residents for Guildford and Villages, Guildford South-East) said: “I’m not sure that we’re really tackling it as effectively as I think everyone would choose. On behalf of the committee, I would certainly ask if there was a renewed focus on those communications.”

Assessments for EHCPs will be carried out in chronological order, starting with those who have been waiting longest, except for more vulnerable children, where there is a safeguarding concern, or where they are due to transfer to the next phase of their education, which are being prioritised for completion on time.

Documents show that in order to catch up with the outstanding EHCPs, the county council will need to issue 330 overdue EHCPs in September, 321 in October and 260 in November.

The number of overdue plans being issued per month will be over 200 until May 2024, when it is forecast to drop to 86, compared to 147 which should be completed on time and meeting the 60 per cent target.
But documents also show that this target can only be achieved if the demand for assessments for an EHCP reduces.

The county council will focus on meeting needs “at the earliest opportunity”, with more language and communication support for reception classes.

The county council’s leader said before the meeting that, with access to appropriate support services at an earlier stage, families might not need to go down the road of getting an EHCP.

Cllr Tim Oliver (Conservative, Weybridge) said “looking through the other end of the telescope” could lead to “low level” support given earlier on and building a “more resilient, preventative system”, as well as allocating funding to those already in the system.

He added: “I accept that it’s a challenging process for parents. It’s not really their first choice.”
While the cabinet member education and learning, Cllr Clare Curran (Conservative, Bookham and Fetcham West), told Monday’s meeting she was “really confident” the plan to catch up on overdue EHCPs was realistic and could be achieved. But she said it would be put under pressure if there were a “massive increase” in new requests coming forward, or if there were a large number of staff leaving roles, as happened in 2022.

Image – illustration from UNHCR CC

ULEZ compliant taxis for Epsom and Ewell

Taxis outside Epsom station

Taxis in Epsom and Ewell will need to be ULEZ-compliant in order to get a licence despite concerns raised from drivers. All licences will be given, providing cabs meet the standards, on July 1st, 2026.

However,  from January, 1st 2025, licences will not normally be renewed for diesel vehicles that do not meet Euro 5 standards.

The ULEZ criteria was put to drivers in a consultation by Epsom and Ewell Borough Council, with some saying their business would be affected, and one driver saying people may stop going out because of increased taxi fares. The response said: “If you want a ghost of Christmas future take a look at Sutton. Sutton once had small and large nightclubs, a cinema and a range of both independent and chain pubs and restaurants. Epsom isn’t booming, but it is starting to recover and is a great place to go out. It won’t take much to ruin that.”

As a result of the consultation, an additional six months was added to the original timeline, with diesel car licensing planned to change from July 2024, to help drivers “already struggling with the cost of living”.

A meeting of the council’s licensing and planning policy committee on Tuesday (September 26) agreed the changes, and heard from officers that some drivers were already replacing their cars, having held out to see if the ULEZ expansion would actually come in.

The zone was expanded in August, and now comes up to the border with five districts and boroughs in Surrey, of which one is Epsom and Ewell.

Councillor Clive Woodbridge (Residents’ Association, Ewell Village) said he welcomed that more time had been given for vehicles to be replaced, and cited supply chain issues after Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.

He said having spoken to Uber drivers, he understood they had been told their vehicles would have to be electric in the future in order for them to continue to be on the app. He said the biggest change to emissions quality would be moving away from diesel and petrol to electric vehicles. The council would need to provide more electric charging points to achieve these aims, he added. 

Cllr Woodbridge said: “I would support this council in doing what it can to accelerate the move towards electric.”

One respondent warned about the impact on Epsom’s “reasonable” nightlife if the cost of new vehicles was passed on to passengers and that people would “go out less or not at all”.
While another responded with concerns about his limousine business, saying their Chrysler limousine was ULEZ compliant, while their Lincoln car was not. They said: “I’m a small business and heavily rely on being able to trade to pay my mortgage, childcare fees and every other bill I have which is quite substantial. If the policy excluded me from trading it would have a detrimental impact on me and my family’s life.

“We are a service in high demand, so it would also have an impact on the public who want to use our service for their special occasions.”

An officers’ report into the policy said they had not been able to find any special exemption for limousines in Transport for London guidelines. They said there wasn’t justification for a blanket exemption for such cars and recommended they be looked at on a case-by-case basis when making a licensing decision.

On the timeline for the changes, officers said: “If the new standards are implemented too quickly it could result in significant hardship for the licensed trade, and if substantial numbers of licence holders leave the trade as a result of too fast an implementation, then this could affect service provisions, ultimately creating a risk to public safety.”

From January 1, 2025 the council will not renew licences for diesel vehicles not meeting or exceeding Euro 5 emission standards, and from From July 1, 2026 licences, including renewals, will only be granted to vehicles which meet the Petrol Euro 4 and Diesel Euro 6 standards, with some exceptions.

Specially adapted vehicles for wheelchairs users will be exempt, and those being used for home to school transport with a county council contract will get a one-year extension to both phases.

The policy was unanimously agreed by the committee, and will go to full council for agreement.

Related reports:

Stretching Epsom taxi ULEZ exemption

Emissions a taxing issue for Council

Image Google street view Epsom Station taxis