Communities minister Greg Clark visited Shirehall yesterday and council leaders were engaged in an extensive lobbying exercise to get a fairer funding deal for our county. I have no doubt that the meeting was a useful briefing for Mr Clark, and he will have heard how different Shropshire is from his own constituency of Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Nevertheless, he promised council leaders absolutely no more money. Nothing. Zilch. Sweet Fanny Adams.
I wonder if Mr Clark was shown the agenda for next Thursday’s council meeting. Because he might have been shocked that a council lobbying for greater recognition in the scheme of things has absolutely nothing on its agenda. Nothing. Zilch. Sweet Fanny Adams. It is a complete political vacuum.
Now it is true that there are items on the agenda next Thursday. It the council’s annual meeting. There are public and council questions, a motion from the Lib Dems on academies, and appointments to committees. But there are no agenda items on policy, cuts or the services crisis.
People in Shropshire might be surprised that the council is not to discuss the ongoing cuts, especially the enforced transfer of services to parish and town councils. That transfer was discussed by the council’s cabinet in April. Ludlow Town Council dedicated much of its full council meeting last Thursday to debating how to deal with Shropshire Council’s threat to shut down the libraries, museum, leisure centre, play areas, youth services and more if it does not agree to take them on within 19 weeks. But it seems that from Shropshire Council’s perspective, this is not such an important topic that it needs to be discussed at full council. It’s not on the agenda. Perhaps this might appear on the July council agenda, but that will be just six weeks before the “take it or lose it” deadline imposed by Shropshire Council.
Two days ago, the cabinet agreed to sink £45 million in its failing computer systems over the next five years. Despite needing to find an extra £17 million to meet this huge bill, it clearly is not a topic worthy of debate at council. It’s not on the agenda.
If council leaders had confidence in what they are doing, they would welcome, even relish public scrutiny. But next Thursday morning, we have a near empty agenda.
That is a disgrace. We should be using every opportunity to discuss the crisis facing services in our county. This council leadership seems hell bent on destroying Shropshire Council as a democratic institution. If it wasn’t apparent before, the minimalist agenda for next Thursday’s council meeting shows that this unitary authority is well on its way to becoming a democratic shipwreck.
. 40% of the population of the Tunbridge Wells district live in rural areas compared to 75% in Shropshire.
. Part 4, 2.2 (ix) of the council’s constitution states the annual meeting may “consider any business set out in the notice convening the meeting.”