Shropshire’s unitary council has failed and it's hurting our county

I want to write “the unitary experiment has failed”. But it’s not an experiment, it’s the real thing. And the political failure of the unitary council is damaging our county.

The unitary council’s idea of civic leadership is to keep to itself grant money that the government intended for town and parish councils. It leads the county by telling local councils they have weeks to adopt services such as libraries, museums and leisure centres, or they will be closed down. Its concept of leading is to hold down its council tax but exhort parish and town councils to raise their precepts through the roof.

The unitary council was established to bring together county services under one organisation. This would save costs. We would get better services for less money. Few people in this part of Shropshire thought the move to a unitary authority was a good idea. But it happened anyway.

Now the unitary council is spitting out any services its doesn’t want to run. It is telling parish and town councils that if they don’t agree to take them on by the beginning of September, it will close them down.

Councils such as Ludlow, Oswestry and Shrewsbury, will need to take on extra staff to run services. They’ll need to work with surrounding parish councils to ensure the burden of costs is fairly shared. A particularly clear example of this is library provision. Central services will be provided by Shirehall and local councils will run the libraries. That’s two layers of bureaucracy to run one service.

That’s why I say Shropshire Council has failed as a unitary council. It was set up to run countywide services. Yet, as it discards services it is not willing to run, we are heading towards recreating new versions of the district councils. That’s failure in my book.

Shropshire Council has also failed as a political entity and as a civic leader. Political leadership is not about doing what is best for a political party. It is not about pursuing political ideology. The objective of political leadership should be to do what is best for the people of Shropshire. That’s not happening right now. This failure will hurt our county for a long time to come.

I believe this unitary council has failed. Totally, utterly failed.

Failure

This is what I told Ludlow Town Council last week.

“We know we live in tough times. But let’s go back to 2007 or thereabouts when the unitary authority was first suggested  and it was going to solve everything. Things would go into Shrewsbury, it would save us money and we would have better services.

“Let me make it very clear as a unitary councillor, I believe this unitary council has failed. Totally, utterly failed. It can’t keep control of its finances. Roughly £18 million was agreed today to pay for the computer system upgrade and it means that we are spending £50 million on computers over the next five years, as a base line cost.

“Now, we can increase the amount of budget for computing by nearly £20 million because we can scrounge it from our reserves and by moving money around. What we can’t do is move money around to save your library. We can’t move money around to save museums. We can’t move money around to save the youth centre. Because the unitary council, or the Tory leadership, and it is a political point, has simply said, “We don’t want to do it anymore. And it’s for you to do it.” They don’t want to put up council tax. I was the only person to vote against the council tax resolution at the last council because it is not enough at 4%.

“The council’s finances are a disgrace and it is so badly managed that we spend more on cleaning the toilets at the youth centre than we do on running youth services in the building. And this is so throughout the council. The council is appalling and it should be scrapped. And if I had any powers in the world, and I have none, I would scrap it.

“I think most of you here probably voted against it [in 2007]. Most of South Shropshire did. Now, this unitary council is a council at the point of total political failure. That’s the real position.

“However, that doesn’t change the position you look at tonight where, if you don’t take on libraries, or find a way of running libraries, if you don’t take on leisure centres, if you don’t find a way of running youth services, or we don’t, it’s not just the council, we shouldn’t operate in silos, it needs to be all the parishes, all the people together, the whole community, if we don’t do this, then they won’t exist.

“Shropshire Council is at a state of self destruction. It doesn’t want to run anything that it can’t run. And it doesn’t care whether it’s going to close things or not.

“That’s the threat. You have until September, and as you were saying, Mr Mayor, on radio this morning, it is an impossible deadline. It is just a ridiculous deadline. We have this tight deadline. Do we save the services in Ludlow? It is a great town, a fantastic town, and its whole hinterland is well served by public services, that I think I want to keep. I want to keep public services. I believe in the public sector and I believe we should provide public services.

“The town council is now in the forefront of this because the political leadership in Shirehall has failed.”

10 thoughts on “Shropshire’s unitary council has failed and it's hurting our county

  1. Very true, Andy. I Think that Shropshire Council is driving the final nail into its coffin by its attitude towards cuts in services and its contempt for the communities it is supposed to serve.It has totally failed as a concept. So where do we go from here? One move seems to be towards some kind of partnership between towns in a similar position to Ludlow. But, if current proposals by Ludlow Council are turned down by Shropshire, as I fear they will be, I suspect the only option , difficult though it will be, will be “flatpack democracy” on the model of Frome and elsewhere, probably if it is to be viable recreating the old South Shropshire Council. So in fact, if it doesn’t see sense, Shropshire Council will not only have failed, but will be committing suicide. And no great loss!

    See http://www.indie-town.uk/

  2. Dear Andy Cassandra – its no use just crying Woe Woe and thrice Woe – tell us, ordinary citizens, what we can do about it, if anything.

  3. It is not the “unitary system ” that has failed so spectacularly but Conservative dogma writ large. If it was Labour led or Liberal Democrat led or a coalition of the two making such a total hash of running the show you could bet your life that all of the Tory MP’s in the county would be screaming for Government intervention and for special measures of every description for every service.
    As it is they are all just Fence sitters lobbing in the odd remark just to remind the electorate that they still exist.
    Ludlow is extremely fortunate that it has four very hard working Unitary Councilors in Andy Boddington , Viv Parry and the Huffer’s fighting as best they can for the Town and its surround’s ,
    In Bridgnorth.and area we have nothing but Conservative Councilors who in Andy’s words “do nothing, zippoo and offer sweet Fanny Adams”

    In reply to the previous post from Helen who want to know what to do here is an answer. Make contact with you four councilors and do every thing you can to help them spread their message and remain as councilors.

  4. I suggest the people of Ludlow bombard Phillip Dunne with Emails.Yet again he would rather play with his battleships rather than stand up for the people of Ludlow who elected him.

  5. Getting a response from Dunne Nuthin is a major achievement. Even Ludlow Council has problems. Trouble is that he doesn’t rely on Ludlow for his majority. If he did, he’d be gone, but he has a massive lead in the rural parts of the constituency. But no harm in making his life miserable anyway.

  6. Sorry to get back so soon….But 1/ We had a library on Old Street that provided all the services required at minimal overheads.2/ leisure centre contract with Teme Leisure would cost what to terminate V ongoing running annual costs?3/ Why is every post on this page assuming that Ludlow will lie down and automatically take over the services we as tax payers have given Shirehall our money to provide.4/ There is a legal cap on increase in local taxation without a referendum…..Does this apply to Ludlow Town Council? Over to you Andy for clarity please.Regards Barry

    1. Briefly,

      1) The Old Street building belongs to Shropshire Council and will at some point be sold. One of the issues here is that Ludlow gets no direct benefit from the sell off of buildings like this and Stone House. I think we should get a proportion of the sale proceeeds.

      2) I am awaiting costs for the Leisure Centre

      3) I doubt we will take on all the services on Shropshire Council’s ill though through list. Why should we take on, for example, Shropshire Council’s customer service desks. It cannot be effiecient for a town council to run another council’s advice service. BUt you need to recognise the reality of the political situation. Malcolm Pate is hell bent on discarding services from Shropshire Council. In my view this is driven more by political dogma than budgets. He will scrap services if they are not taken on locally.

      4) There is no cap on town and parish councils increasing their precept. However, the government has threatened a cap or referendum requirement if councils make “excessive” precept rises.

  7. Civil Disobedience is perhaps the answer . All residents to pay their council tax to Ludlow town coffers rather than Shirehall . If only for one month it would grab national headlines and be discussed at THE HIGHEST levels thus forcing the hand of Shropshire Council…..

  8. Shropshire Council has £50m in reserves, some of it ‘ring-fenced’ for particular purposes. But this money is provided by taxpayers to provide services, not salt away for rainy days – which are here now! The arms-length company IP&E was a total disaster, and was promoted by Tory ex-Leader Keith Barrow and his cronies. It is time Shropshire Council abandoned its failed ‘cabinet system’ and reintroduced committees, where all councillors could take an active part in running, controlling and scrutinising activities. Currently there is no real accountability.

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