Month: February 2013

The Conservatives on Shropshire Council have rejected out of hand Lib Dem proposals that would have repaired the county’s roads, supported small businesses and young people, and improved transport for disabled people. Nigel Hartin, leader of Shropshire Liberal Democrats, says he is angered by the council decision. “When will this council begin to use its budget wisely? It splashes out hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants, but it won’t make sensible changes to its budget that will help the boost the local economy. It piles money into reserves but rejects out of hand proposals that will help the elderly, the vulnerable and the young.” The Liberal Democrat proposals, rejected at this morning’s Council meeting, would not add a penny to council tax. The £4.185 million cost of the proposals can be found within existing resources [1]. One proposal rejected by the council was £2 million boost to the roads maintenance budget. As Nigel says: “Shropshire’s road network has suffered terrible damage in recent months. Our wrecked roads are dangerous for drivers and pedestrians alike. But it seems that council leaders are oblivious to the state of our roads. Do they drive around the county with their eyes closed?” The…

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A week ago I witnessed a fascinating debate on Twitter. Shrewsbury trader Julia Wenlock put Shropshire council leader Keith Barrow on the spot about Sunday car parking charges. After a lengthy exchange, Keith agreed to a free parking day on 30 June. During the discussion Keith revealed that for Shrewsbury: “We offered free parking on a Sunday if shops opened and that offer still stands.” Shrewsbury needs initiatives like this to give a boost to trade in The Loop. But why has the council leader not made an equivalent offer to Ludlow? Many of our shops already open on Sunday. I am sure that others would open if there was a hope of more customers. This morning, Keith announced a further initiative for Shrewsbury. He said that Shrewsbury will benefit from eight Super Sunday parking days with all-day parking for the price of an hour. Keith made clear that this initiative will not be extended to Ludlow. Why not? Once again, the needs of Ludlow are being by ignored councillors in Shirehall. Parking charges put off shoppers. The independent traders of Ludlow need every bit of help they can get. Let’s have free parking on Sundays and get people flocking…

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I am very much enjoying being out and about in Ludlow canvassing for votes and I have had some very engaging discussions in recent days. One theme comes up regularly. People say that politicians – local and national – have lost touch with the needs and wishes of ordinary folk. Voters are fed up with elected representatives not representing them. Some have become non-voters as a result. Many Ludlow people feel that their voices are not being heard. They say that Shropshire Council is too distant, unlike the former South Shropshire District Council. Talking to colleagues, a similar message is coming out from canvassing elsewhere in the county. Too many councillors have become enamoured by their own importance and – except at election time – have shown little regard for local opinion. Being elected matters to me, but I am not interested in being important. What I care about is being useful, and I can only achieve that by listening carefully. I don’t want to change things here in Ludlow in any significant way. I just want to make them better for as many people as possible. Again, that can only be delivered by listening carefully. I have learnt a…

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The Shropshire Star published my letter “huge bill for consultants” today. Thanks guys! The essence of the letter is that despite council leader Keith Barrow telling us that his council is completely open about how it spends its money, it had stopped publishing detailed financial data in April 2012. Keith was unaware of this when he told BBC Radio Shropshire last week that freedom of information requests about payments are unnecessary because “it’s published on our website”. The lack of data was raised on Twitter and later he tweeted: “@libdembodders I’ll make sure this is addressed, thanks.” Not long after today’s digital edition of the Shropshire Star hit the desktop, the data for April to October 2012 was published online. Thanks Keith! I am still puzzled about why so much spending is classified as miscellaneous expenses. In 2011/12, a whacking 8,287 items were classified miscellaneous, adding up to a cool £17.9 million of spending. These are payments that are so central to the council’s operations that it does not know how to classify them! How can an organisation keep tight control of its spending when nearly £18 million pounds is dismissed in the accounts as “miscellaneous”? Things haven’t improved in…

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This morning, BBC Radio Shropshire called council leader Keith Barrow into the studio to justify spending £619,000 on consultants (begins at 2:07). The interview was very revealing, not just on the huge consultancy bill but also on his leadership. It was fascinating and disturbing in equal measure to hear Keith explain how he had no control over consultancy costs for three years and only got a real grip when the council’s chief executive moved on. In trying to justify the bill, Keith more than once pleaded that other councils were spending more on consultants than Shropshire. Anyway, “it’s only one-thousandth of the gross budget,” he said. “It’s like someone who earns £30,000 a year spending £30 on a meal.” I don’t run with the argument that because other councils are splashing out on something, it’s okay for Shropshire to do so. Neither do I believe that because overall budgets are big, small amounts are trivial. No matter how large Shropshire’s budget is, every £30 counts. As Keith admitted, matters used to be a lot worse. Until controls were implemented in March 2012, consultants seem to have been employed rather willy-nilly. The March 2012 controls did not, however, order a review…

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