Leader's Council AGM Speech, May 2016

Madam Chairman, today’s meeting marks the beginning of this administration’s fifth year. We can all reflect on a challenging twelve months completed. It has also been a year of opportunity; a year of achievements.


I am pleased to welcome back to this Chamber the new Conservative Member for Staines South and Ashford West, Denise Turner Stewart. Of course this Chamber will know that Denise returns to the largest Conservative Group in the country. I know she will join us in making a real difference to the residents she represents.


I would like to take this opportunity, Madam Chairman, of thanking the residents of Surrey for placing their trust in this administration at the ballot box: for endorsing us once again; for recognising that we are committed to putting our residents first.


Madam Chairman, I have been open about the challenges facing this council - the changing demographics...rising demand for services...and reduced government funding.


We have worked hard to provide high quality services which our residents rely upon, day in, day out – social care services, new school places, road maintenance, waste management and libraries – to name only a few.


I’m sure everyone in this chamber will agree that Surrey is a truly special place to live; a place of enormous beauty, diversity and history. A place with a significant cultural legacy.


Unlike social care services, roads and waste, we don’t have the same statutory responsibility to support Surrey’s arts and culture.


It would be the easy choice to withdraw our assistance. That would be the wrong choice.


We believe arts and culture are worth our support. We believe in their value to our county. We believe they are part of what make this county unique.


Arts and culture improve our wellbeing, educate us - and they contribute to our economic prosperity.


I know you will agree when I say that Surrey has so much to celebrate.


A great literary legacy, with links to writers such as Conan Doyle, Lewis Carroll and H.G Wells – whose anniversary we are celebrating this year. A fantastic musical tradition in composers such as Vaughan Williams. And a brilliant artistic heritage as the home of world-famous artists such as George Watts.


We can all celebrate in Surrey’s cultural heritage - our stunning countryside, our local trades and our fantastic museums. And we recognise that we have a responsibility to our residents to enhance Surrey’s past and protect its future.


Madam Chairman, there are a wealth of attractions in Surrey – we all have our favourites and they all form part of the county’s buoyant visitor economy, providing income, jobs and opportunities.


I think everyone in this chamber would agree, Surrey is a fantastic place to visit and we ought to shout about it so everybody else knows about it too!


Last year, the Magna Carta celebrations and the success of the Hew Locke commission on Runnymede Meadows lifted Surrey onto the national and international stage.


We want to make sure we keep Surrey on that stage.


We want to bring visitors to the county; to local landmarks, to hotels, to cafes, restaurants and pubs.


We want to champion Surrey’s visitor attractions; places like the Basingstoke Canal, the Farnham Craft Town, and the Surrey Hills.


Visit Surrey now have an official new tourist website which will encourage more visitors to get out and enjoy the county, and we are lending our support to Surrey’s visitor attractions too!


Take Brooklands Museum near Weybridge; the home of motorsport and aviation.


It was the site of the world’s first purpose built race track and pioneered aircraft design and production for over seventy years.


Brooklands holds a truly unique place in the nation’s past,


It is one of our county’s most significant visitor destinations and it is deserving of our support.


So we have helped the museum transform the race track and the World War Two aircraft hangar into an even more impressive visitor attraction.


It is a place visitors from Surrey and further afield will be able to enjoy for years to come and a place where Surrey school children can draw inspiration time and again.


We have also given our support to the Watts Gallery, in Compton near Guildford.


A national gallery in the heart of a Surrey village. George Watts, was one of the most famous artists of the Victorian era and he built this gallery as more than just a celebration of his work.


Here, alongside his wife, Mary, they founded a local pottery industry which provided jobs and skills for local workers.


Under their stewardship Compton became a centre of the arts and crafts movement. Together they created a lasting legacy in Surrey and, just as the Watts supported local industry almost a century ago, we are committed to helping the revival of this unique visitor attraction for Surrey and the nation.


We look forward to working with the Watts trustees to celebrate the bicentenary of Watt’s birth next year and to marking it in an appropriate way.


Madam Chairman, Surrey has a fantastic cultural and artistic heritage which deserves our support, not only to preserve what it is that makes our county so special but to make Surrey a destination for visitors far and wide.


The next twelve months will not be easy as we continue to face challenges and uncertainties head on.


As elected representatives...we all have a responsibility to go beyond the immediate services residents rightly expect of us. We all have a responsibility to preserve what is great about Surrey and improve upon it. We are all custodians of our communities, our heritage, our county and its future.