This article appeared on the Surrey Today website today: Surrey County Council spends £9K on highways survey.
COUNTY council bosses have spent £9,000 of taxpayers’ money on finding out what the public think of highways services.
The money – equivalent to fixing up to 180 potholes – was used for an Ipsos MORI poll and has been criticised at a time when fire station closures are on the cards and libraries are being staffed by volunteers.
More than 4,500 questionnaires were sent out to residents across Surrey, although the council has been unable to confirm how many have been completed and returned.
Geraldine Homewood, 71, of Gangers Hill, Godstone, received one of the surveys and said she was shocked when she saw it asked questions regarding ethnicity and nationality.
“I really wanted to know how much they spent on this survey,” she said. “It’s a 14-page booklet and asked questions like ‘what race are you?’.
“What’s that got to do with fixing roads? I would want to know how much road could have been fixed for the price of this survey.”
Self-employed auctioneer Ray Haffner, 70, of Titsey Road, Limpsfield, added: “I’ve complained about my road incessantly and they don’t take any notice. Councillors and officers have got eyes in their head and can see what’s wrong. It’s a total waste of money.”
The National Highways and Transport Survey is conducted annually by the opinion poll firm to help local authorities identify areas for improvement on issues such as tackling congestion, road safety, public transport and highway maintenance – but councils have to pay if they want the information.
Steven Bangs, 62, from Godstone, who volunteers in the Oxted Oxfam shop, said: “It beggars belief that they can spend so much money on a survey. I’d rather have the money spent on the roads.”
John O’Connell of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “It’s not always a great idea for councils to hire polling firms as there is a risk that they can just go looking for public support for what they [the council] are doing already, instead of really ascertaining what people need or want.
“Local politicians should be in tune with the needs of residents in their ward, meaning there’s no need for expensive surveys.”
The council defended its decision to buy into the survey, saying it was a good way of helping them target spending.
Councillor Steve Renshaw, chairman of the environment and transport committee of Surrey County Council, said: “As a result of our participation, the council receives some extremely useful comparative information on our level of expenditure on highway services, the condition of our networks and levels of customer satisfaction, which ultimately help us improve our services for residents.”