In the coming weeks, Surrey County Council will be setting its budget, and the council tax rate for the coming year.

These are decisions which I’m sure all the members of the council take very seriously indeed. We need to ensure we have enough money to run the high-quality services our residents expect, while being mindful of the impact council tax has on household budgets.

As I’m sure you’ve heard through the media, for some councils the budget process will be particularly difficult this year. But for Surrey County Council, thanks to years of hard work, strong leadership and innovative thinking, we are in a financially stable position, with improving services and a clear forward plan.

We will always put residents first, balancing the need to keep our public finances secure with delivering support to those who really need it and improving people’s lives where possible.

So while we will have to increase council tax this year due to increasing cost and demand for our services, the benefits of what the county council delivers spreads much wider than our key services like social care, highways, libraries and recycling centres.

We are very much part of an important ecosystem of public and community organisations across the county that works together for the benefit of Surrey, including district and borough councils. And if one or more of those organisations struggle, it impacts us all and we must work together as far as possible to protect and serve the people of Surrey.

Farnham's Brightwells Yard development is finally nearing completion, 21 years after developer Crest Nicholson was awarded the contract for the development by Waverley Borough Council
Farnham's Brightwells Yard development is finally nearing completion, 21 years after developer Crest Nicholson was awarded the contract for the development by Waverley Borough Council. Surrey County Council is investing around £30 million in the commercial element of the development. (Michelle Monaghan)

An example of this is the reopening of The Edge in Haslemere. While the county council owns the site, it has no responsibility for, or experience of, running leisure sites. So it was important to work productively with Waverley Borough Council, which felt the need to withdraw the service but has the expertise to keep the centre open, and which has contacts with groups like the Woolmer Hill Sports Association which will be running The Edge for the next year (outside of the core hours of the neighbouring school). 

The priority had to be giving some local groups the opportunity to return to training at The Edge and get all those health and wellbeing benefits that comes with sport. Going forward, there’s a lot to do to ensure the centre has a viable future – we will play our part in trying to make that happen, putting aside party political point scoring and focusing on what is the best long-term decision for residents. 

While we did have a role to support the reopening of The Edge, that does not mean we can simply pick up the funding or running of services for which we have no responsibility, resources or capability for. We owe it to all residents of Surrey to be a responsible organisation with public money, and that often means tough conversations and difficult decisions. But we must deliver the services we’re here to deliver and protect our own long-term future, for the benefit of Surrey.

Another part of the county’s ecosystem is supporting the local economies of our towns and villages. And the coming year for Farnham is a great example of that. 

I’m looking forward to coming to the official opening of the REEL Cinema in a few weeks’ time, marking the first part of the Brightwells Yard development to open. We’ll also soon be seeing improvements to East Street in the spring, and then wider town centre improvements later this year. 

Both Brightwells Yard and the town centre improvements represent a major financial injection from Surrey County Council into Farnham, which will make a significant impact on the economy of both the town centre and the wider community. It’s an investment we hope will have a long-lasting impact on the town.