When I first joined university, I was adamant that I was going to become a sports journalist. However, in the last six months I have decided that I want to explore other ‘avenues’ as a result of a module focusing on basic politics. Below is a profile of Surrey County Councillor Bill Barker which I hope you can read and enjoy!
Growing up in Leicestershire in the 1940’s, becoming a politician was the last thing on a young Bill Barker’s mind.
Relaxing at his office in Surrey County Hall in Kingston, silver-haired Barker – whose appearance defies his eighty-years – explains how, despite regularly attending Conservative Party meetings with his father in the 1950’s, he chose a career in the Merchant Navy.
Although he never considered becoming an MP, Barker reveals how he had been interested in ‘good governance’ and ‘conservative issues’ ever since.
He attended Loughborough Grammar School in his early years and it was during his time there that he concluded his future lie at sea. He subsequently enrolled in nautical school “learning as an apprentice” and “moving up the ranks.”
“I was at sea for twenty years, then I was promoted and came ashore where I eventually retired as the Operations Manager of the fleet”, he explains passionately. His association with the Navy was not to end there however and in 1989, a 56 year-old Barker was awarded an OBE for Services to Shipping after being nominated by the Department of Trade.
What did he feel on being awarded an OBE? Pride. “Pride that a career in shipping had been recognised.”
He continued to “travel to many parts of the world which I hadn’t already been to” assessing marine risk until settling in Surrey the mid-1990’s.
A visit from the local councillor was what drew him to local government, however. Barker was called upon and welcomed, a gesture that thoroughly impressed him. After some time learning about how local government worked, he concluded that he could “manage” both being a councillor and working with a small business.
Initially unaware at which level he would be a councillor, Mr Barker was ultimately notified that he would be standing as a County Councillor for the Horsleys; a post which he has held since 1997 due to what he calls “irritation factor”.
With the area he represents, the villages of East and West Horsley near Guildford, being a rural area, Barker details how “the most important thing is to listen to what the problems are.” To solve the problems, he then attends Parish Council meetings and reflects on what he can do, whilst trying to “match demand with the budget available.”
This is a demanding task nonetheless as no fewer than eighty councillors representing the eleven boroughs and districts that make up the Council, raise issues that need resolution whilst giving each borough a “fair crack of the whip”as Barker colloquially puts it.
Aside from his role as a councillor, Barker is the Vice-Chairman of the Council’s Audit and Governance Committee; which “looks at the way different committees…scrutinise expenditure.” Essentially, the Council has a “small group of auditors” who make sure that “money is being accounted for correctly” although he admits that one of the hardest jobs is “those areas which we should be looking at before problems arise.”
Barker says that his greatest memory as a councillor was when he managed to get five hundred people “sufficiently angry” to come to Surrey County Hall to “lobby for school places for the Horsley children”; a major concern, which is yet to be rectified, and a topic Barker backs strongly.
When questioned on why Surrey has continually high GCSE results Barker expressed how “We’re fortunate to have very good families who think highly of their children and make sure they get a good education.”
“But there are pressures…on school places as we speak.”
Additionally, in response to Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles calling Surrey ‘democracy dodgers’ for raising their council tax by 1.99% – just below the 2% needed for a referendum – Barker clarified how “he [Pickles] thinks the government are helping councils by giving them money.”
“What he doesn’t understand is that the councils have a proportion of their spend made up from different sources…our council tax is the biggest amount we have.”
“1% of council tax is worth about £6 million so if the government give us that £6 million to not put up the council tax, we have to make it up the following year…like compound interest.”
Barker will look to retain his role at the Council elections in May and has put forward three main issues that he is aiming to tackle, should he be elected: “School places… improving roads and safe places for people to end their retiring days. Those are the three big issues for the Horsleys.”
And with sixteen years experience in the role, the evergreen Barker wants to prove he is still the best man to bring change to the Horsleys.