A decision on cutting back the hours of Ludlow’s registrar service was due to have been made today, Monday 14 December. The cabinet member, Karen Calder, was also set to approve changes to registrar services across the county, including extended hours at Oswestry. The decision would have been made at one of Shropshire Council’s secretive portfolio holder sessions from which the press and public are excluded.
Today’s meeting has been cancelled after I protested on Friday that the paperwork was incomplete. In particular, the detailed responses to the consultation were missing. These responses would have shown in detail how strongly we were opposed to the proposed changes of hours in Ludlow. I asked that the meeting to be deferred. Karen Calder, the portfolio holder for health, responded quickly and agreed that the decision-making session should not go ahead.
In cancelling this meeting, Karen made the right decision and I am grateful for that. It was a good move and one that was almost unthinkable only ten days ago.
I have never been happy with important decisions being made by individual cabinet members in meetings from which the press and public are excluded. Malcolm Pate, who will lead the council from Thursday, has already indicated he wants to return decision making to the cabinet.
I hope also that the delay in making a decision will provide an opportunity for rethinking the cutbacks. Officers had proposed that the Ludlow registrar service would be cut back from 20 to 12 hours a week, from a five-day service to three days. Oswestry hours would be expanded. This was despite the council’s own analysis that demand, measured by appointment slots filled, is greater in Ludlow than Oswestry.
Of course, we are used to Oswestry being favoured over Ludlow under the Barrow regime. But the real reason for cutting back hours in Ludlow in this case is that a member of staff here wants to take redundancy.
We need to make tough cuts, perhaps even to essential statutory services. But those cuts should be made on sound policy grounds, informed by data. We should not reshape services based on someone wanting to take redundancy.
We now have an opportunity to rethink how we deliver the registrar service in Ludlow. The town council describes the current facilities in the library as a “disgrace”. I think that is an understatement. I have asked if Karen will meet us in the New Year to discuss how we go forward.