Shropshire Council should step up to the plate and hold a referendum on council tax, says Ludlow’s mayor in showdown

The story is headlining on BBC Radio Shropshire right now and I guess we’ll see it in the Shropshire Star when it is published around 9.30am.

I think that when Shropshire Council leader Malcolm Pate demanded that town and parish councils agree to take over a range of services by September this year, or they would be scrapped, he didn’t expect such a strong reaction.

Local councils are not rolling over and playing dead. They are insisting on more time to put staff structures and finance in place. And, led by Ludlow’s mayor, they are demanding that Shropshire Council holds a countywide referendum on raising council tax above the 1.99% allowed without a vote. (To this, you must add the 2% adult social care tax.).

Councillor Pate and his staff have been running ahead of themselves on service transfers. They are constantly correcting the list of services to be transferred and arrangements for making the transfers. The process has been so rushed with so few staff to support it that it has been more chaotic than managed.

The press release from Ludlow Town Council, reproduced below, says it just right.

Referendum needed to stop fragmentation of local services

Ludlow Town Council has made significant progress in their dialogue with Shropshire Council regarding the proposed cuts to local services and feel that Shropshire Council’s change of direction is a very positive step forward in negotiations.

Mr. George Candler, Director of Commissioning at Shropshire Council has decided that some services and facilities can be taken “out of scope” for the current discussions and has confirmed that Ludlow Museum Resource Centre, Ludlow Library, Customer Service Points, Ludlow Leisure Centre, and youth activities will continue to be funded to some extent by Shropshire Council beyond April 2017

Ludlow Town Council have always argued that  the Museum Resource Centre is a countywide asset as well as being the base for services that Shropshire Council has a statutory obligation to provide such as the library, customer services and registrars.  Shropshire Council are currently consulting on changes to the library opening hours.

The Leisure Centre is “out of scope” for the current discussions because a new Indoor Leisure Facilities Strategy is currently being developed by Shropshire Council and they are planning to consult on this new strategy over the summer with decisions being taken by SC in the autumn.

Shropshire Council has adjusted its position on youth activities and the £10,850.00 grant will be retained into 2017/18, but the grant will be cut to zero from April 2018.  Ludlow Youth Centre is currently funded by Shropshire Council, but it is proposed to be placed on the Community Asset Transfer list (CAT), which means that Ludlow Town Council or another community organisation could consider the asset.

Ludlow Town Council  has received no assurances from Shropshire Council that services and facilities moved out of scope will remain permanently out of scope, however, it is a step in the right direction and the unrealistic deadline of committing to 197% increase in delivery of services representing a precept increase from £360,411.00 to over £1million by September 2016 has been reduced to a 48% increase to £538,764.00.

The situation is by no means resolved and there are still important local services that Shropshire Council will withdraw funding from April 2017 including Ludlow Assembly Room, Visitor Information Centre, Ludlow Museum, outdoor recreation areas, a grant to Rockspring Centre, Ludlow Youth Centre and from 2018 youth activities.

Mayor of Ludlow Cllr Paul Draper said, ‘Ludlow Town Council understands the importance of creating a sustainable future for Ludlow.  Ludlow is an important market town and an asset in Shropshire.   Our principle council, Shropshire Council, needs to recognise that its role is to support all the unique market towns and rural population of Shropshire.

Ludlow Town Council and many other market towns believe that Shropshire Council cannot abdicate it’s responsibility across Shropshire; and if the Council Tax needs to be raised beyond the cap set by central government then Shropshire Council has to act responsibly, step up to the plate, and call a referendum to raise the council tax across the county so that centralised and equitable services are retained and residents can remain proud of this beautiful county.

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