Councillor Will Forster is the Liberal Democrat Surrey County Council councillor for Surrey’s Woking South division, and a lifelong Woking resident. Continuing my series of interviews with local councillors in the run up to May’s local elections, I interview Will about past achievements and future goals.
Will talks to me about his significant achievements on the council so far. For example, he led the decision to make care leavers exempt from council tax. ‘Young care leavers don’t have their parents to fall back on. Some of the statistics around their life chances is appalling’ he says. ‘What I did and what I made sure that the councils did was giving people who have just left the care system a few years without having to pay council tax, which is a massive advantage for them: people who have moved out of the care system don’t have to suddenly get landed with this giant council tax.’ This decision has provided a massive benefit to those it targets. ‘I’ve met some of them and they’re very appreciative and it’s really nice to have that legacy and to support some of the most vulnerable young people we’ve got.’
He also served as Mayor of Woking from 2018-19. He describes the experience as ‘a wonderful honour,’ going on to say ‘it’s very different from the normal everyday life of being a councillor. It’s being the head of the civic community, so particularly cheerleading and fundraising local community groups and supporting the community spirit.’ During the pandemic, he says, ‘I think we’ve all seen that, across the country but particularly in Woking people have come together to look after each other. People have made sure prescriptions are collected and shopping is done for vulnerable people who are self-isolating.’ He discusses his support for the York Road Project, a homeless charity, whose work was particularly valuable during the pandemic, making sure every homeless person got off the street and was looked after in a safe, Covid-appropriate way.
Alongside this, Will has run for parliament twice, in the snap general elections of 2017 and 2019 (in the second of which, he lead the Lib Dems to their best result in over a decade). I asked him if he will run again. ‘I’m not sure yet,’ he says honestly. ‘We’ve had two snap general elections relatively recently, and when the next election comes around I don’t know what my position I and my party will be in.’ But he is sceptical about Woking’s current parliamentary representation. ‘I don’t think Woking is served well by its current MP; we’ve got a remain constituency which has a passionate leaver as its MP.’
Last but not least, what does he plan to do in the future if re-elected? ‘For years the local people have wanted better access from South Woking to Woking town centre. And I know network rail working with the local councils are going to replace Victoria Arch over the coming years; that’s got the potential to be very beneficial to local people. It’s awful at the moment but actually we need to make sure that any refurbishment is done quickly, it shouldn’t involve lengthy road closures or diversions.’ He also mentions that many roads don’t have pavements, providing difficulty for pedestrians; this needs to be addressed as well.
On a more long-term basis, he plans to continue to challenge the current Conservative majority in Surrey County Council. ‘If we’re not the majority party, it’s about holding the current Conservative administration to account for their failings. We’ve got four county council services that are officially ranked as failing, which is awful: one of them serves the most vulnerable children in Surrey. That needs to change. That’s why we need to continue to hold them to account.’