On Tuesday evening, a new campaign will be launched. The People’s Alliance for Ludlow aims to take action over the current uncertainty on future funding of many Ludlow services. That uncertainty is a result of cuts to Shropshire Council budgets and its struggling attempts to persuade town and parish councils to take over services it is no longer prepared to run.
Shropshire Council has backtracked on some plans to transfer services. But it has remained steadfast that many other services the unitary council was set up to run will be either transferred to local councils or scrapped altogether.
Town and parish councils are not taking this lying down. In June, ten of them signed a memorandum of understanding setting out how they will deal with Shropshire Council over the transfers. The memorandum accuses Shropshire Council of financial mismanagement.
The ten councils complain that Shropshire Council has refused to pass on government money due to parish councils over the last two years. Shirehall took £947,000 out of parish council budgets over two years, including £65,000 from Ludlow Town Council.
The councils say that working with Shropshire Council is frustrating and the timetable for agreement on transfer of services is unrealistic. They want a countywide referendum on council tax increases and precepts. And they want to keep money from the sale of unused council buildings for local use.
The memorandum followed a meeting hosted by Ludlow Town Council. Since that and other meetings, Shropshire Council has come up with an alternative strategy.
It is proposing “clustering arrangements” between town and parish councils. Leaders of the clusters will meet up with Shropshire Council at a working group on 21 July. The purpose of the working group is to “take a strategic view of the common issues affecting the local councils considering taking on or funding local services and discuss and seek solutions to these.”
Area workshops organised jointly between the town and parish councils and Shropshire Council are also to take place this month. The deadline of submitting firm proposals to Shropshire Council by the end of September has not changed.
In Ludlow, the library, Museum Resource Centre and leisure centre have been dropped from Shropshire Council’s immediate list for service transfers. This gives the town council much of the breathing space it asked for when confronted with a September deadline for agreeing to take over services or lose them.
I think many people would get the impression that Shropshire Council is making up the service transfer process as it goes along. It should have set out a roadmap setting out the route for service transfer at the outset. It still fails to recognise that local councils will need substantial investment to train existing staff or to hire new staff if they are to take on a greater range of services. And Shropshire Council remains in denial that that its back of envelope model for service transfer is untested, under-resourced and likely to be unviable in the longer term.
More information on progess with library transfers is available in Environment and Services Scrutiny Committee papers: