In today’s Shropshire Star and on BBC Radio Shropshire, Shropshire Council leader Keith Barrow has been engaged in a degree of damage limitation over his decision to hold back half a million pounds of government money intended for town and parish councils.
He said the controversial decision should have been handled differently with better consultation. But he justified the move saying parish councils held reserves and some were not putting up their precepts. He said he expected tomorrow’s council to approve the plans to retain the Council Tax Support Grant (this is money to compensate from losses parish councils would have suffered after council tax rules were changed a few years ago). The Lib Dem group will be calling for Keith Barrow to change his mind and pass the money on to town and parish councils.
Keith Barrow’s point on reserves is nonsense. Shropshire Council keeps around £15 million in reserves. He can’t criticise councils for also keeping reserves. This is simply best practice in the government sector.
What Keith Barrow didn’t mention today was that he had received a letter from Kris Hopkins, the minister for local government. The letter dated 19 February said:
It is important that all billing authorities act in a manner which is fair both to town and parish councils, and to council tax payers. As you finalise your budgets for 2015-16, I urge you to properly identify the amount of local council tax support funding attributable to town and parish councils in their area and ensure that an appropriate amount is passed on in open and collaborative discussion with the parishes.
In other words, Kris Hopkins said – pass the money on to town and parish councils that is due to them.
We four Ludlow and Clee councillors had previously written to Keith Barrow asking him to pass on the council tax support grant. The reply we received was not encouraging.
All this means there is likely to be a lively debate in the council chamber tomorrow (when we are also discussing cuts to the Ludlow Museum Resource Centre).
Tomorrow the Lib Dem group on the council will present an amendment calling for the payments to town and parish councils be reinstated for as long as the government provides the Council Tax Support Grant.
The Conservatives hold a majority at Shropshire Council. Will they back their party leader tomorrow and defy government instructions. Or will they vote for the best interests of the towns and parishes they represent and insist the money is passed on?