Statement by Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, Leader of Woking Borough Council, in response to the outcome of the local elections held on Thursday 4 May 2023.
"This is an historic moment. It is an honour and a delight to be the first Leader of a re-elected majority Liberal Democrat administration. In all 49 years of Woking Borough Council, and the many years of predecessor authorities, this has never happened before.
"Last year we won 70 percent of the seats up for election. This year we have won 80 percent of seats. For a second year Woking voters elected zero Conservative councillors. Local voters have backed the Liberal Democrat's to continue our work to turn around Woking Council.
"Thank you, people of Woking Borough, for putting your faith in us to continue the work we have started to get the council finances under control, develop Woking town centre so it provides the homes we need without turning into a sea of skyscrapers and achieve carbon zero for our council and our borough.
"Thank you, everybody who has worked so hard to promote these elections, and the need for Voter ID, and to carry out the count today. Thank you to the police for overseeing proceedings. Thank you to the leisure centre staff who have hosted us today. Thank you to the candidates and the volunteers who have helped them. I know Liberal Democrats have worked hard over many months, knocked on many thousands of doors and engaged with many thousands of local people. I have no doubt others standing for election will also have worked hard. Thank you all for your contribution to local democracy.
"I will take this opportunity to publicly thank senior officers of the council for their work over the last year. It hasn’t been easy to deal with a new administration, government scrutiny and a very challenging financial position. I’ve also appreciated that Surrey County Council has provided help and support to my officers but I would make a plea…please sort out the potholes. We can’t go through another year like this one where you risk your vehicle just taking a drive across Woking. As a popular meme goes ‘we used to drive on the left of the road. Now we drive on what’s left of the road’.
"Welcome to the team all of the newly elected Liberal Democrat councillors and welcome back to the team Cllrs Johnson, Leach and Morales. We have some great experience in housing, crime and safety and planning returning to the council and some fantastic new local representatives. Woking Council now has an Atlantic rower, a former head of finance at UNICEF, and two biomedical scientists.
"I know they will all work just as hard for local people in their roles as elected representatives as they have worked to be elected.
"It is a real pleasure to have such a strong team of Liberal Democrats to tackle the challenges ahead.
"Welcome back to Independent, Cllr Boote and to new Canalside representative Cllr Javaid.
"Turning to the challenges. We warned when setting budgets and the financial strategy several months ago that the council was in Section 114 territory. That means we were able to set a budget for the current financial year, but not beyond. That threat has not receded. We face a £9.5 million gap between what we need to provide services and income. On top of this is the crippling challenge of paying back the borrowing. We need £60m for that alone in the year ahead.
"In this most challenging of times for Woking Council I do want to work with other parties. I hope they will be open to speaking about cross party working to navigate the way ahead.
"We have challenges. We are up for those challenges. We have the team to tackle those challenges.
"But for today let’s enjoy our success and welcoming our new councillors.
View the full results of the local elections held on Thursday 4 May 2023.