Ludlow Town Council is considering a request from Shropshire Council to take on a broad range of services. These could cost an extra £1 million a year and hike the precept in the town from around £100 a year to more than £300. The alternative could be closure of the library, leisure centre, visitor information centre and other services. This will discussed on at the full council meeting on Wednesday night. This could well be the most important meeting the town council has held for many years.
The transfer of services raises what I call the “Ludford Question” – should the cost of the devolved services be imposed on Ludlow council taxpayers alone or spread more widely?
This question applies not just to Ludford but also to parishes for a considerable distance around Ludlow. As a traditional market town, we serve a wide hinterland. But the question is particularly important for Ludford because a good deal of the town’s future housing development will be built in that parish between Rocks Green and Sheet village.
The Ludford Question may be one of the most difficult we will face in the coming months.
If the increased tax burden is borne by Ludlow alone, this could lead to an unfair burden on the town’s council taxpayers. Someone living on Lower Broad Street in Ludlow could pay more than £300 a year in local precept, while someone using the same services living the other side of Ludford Bridge could pay less than £20 a year. On the other hand, a fair distribution of precept could lead to Ludford and other parishes around Ludlow raising their precept by more than a hundred pounds. They are likely to object to that.
A quick back of envelope calculation shows the scale of the issue. Let’s assume that Ludlow Town Council needs to raise an extra £500,000 annually. That’s an extra £148 for every Band D property within the town – less for smaller properties and more for larger homes. But if the £500,000 was raised from all the houses in the Ludlow and Clee Local Joint Committee area, the Band D precept would rise by only £94. But this would mean that the precept in Ludford would rise by more than 600%, Caynham by over 250% and Bromfield by an eye watering 2,000% plus.
I can’t imagine such hikes in precept being popular. At the moment, we don’t have the mechanisms in place to negotiate them.
There are alternative models. Parishes could be charged according to how much their residents use the library, though I think this might be complex to put in place. It is perhaps easier to distribute the subsidy for the leisure centre among parishes according to usage. Museum enthusiasts are calling for a trust to be created to save the county’s museums, including the Museum Resource Centre. I think that’s a good idea.
This is a tough time for Ludlow Town Council. It will need more money and perhaps more staff. It will certainly need a very different way of working to cope with the transfer of services. But the biggest challenge the council may face is ensuring an equitable distribution of payment for any services it takes on.
I think the timescale proposed by Shropshire Council is far too short. It will not allow enough time for consultation and negotiation with parishes around Ludlow. There will not be enough time to fully consult with the public either.
I am against what Shropshire Council is doing.
There are two tiers in local government for a reason. Some services must be provided at a wider than local level. That includes libraries, museums and leisure services. Shropshire Council has forgotten this as it pursues its obsession to offload any services it can.
The council is rushing the transfer process for political reasons. It wants to axe or transfer as many services as quickly as it can so that these do not become a political issue in the 2017 unitary elections. It is wrong to do so. It needs to allow more time and give more support to local councils.
This is going to be the biggest change in local government services since the county went unitary. It should not be rushed.
The costs for Ludlow of transferring services
Ludlow Town Council papers
Shropshire Council papers
. Estimate of Band D council tax.
. The council tax base, the number of properties paying tax, is calculated in terms of Band D equivalents. This makes it possible to compare parishes where the range of house sizes differs. Some properties in this example will pay less than £148 extra, some will pay more.
. I am using the LJC area as a proxy for Ludlow’s hinterland merely out of convenience.