As Ludlow rises in protest, Shropshire Council leader backs down on September services transfer deadline

Last night, more than one hundred people met at Ludlow Brewery for the launch of the People’s Alliance for Ludlow (PAL). The mood of the meeting was angry and constructive in turns. The anger was directed at Shropshire Council for the way it is managing cuts and forcing town and parish councils to take over services. The Clinical Commissioning Groups also came under fire for the chaos of Future Fit and the threats to local health services.

This morning, council leader Malcolm Pate took to the airwaves of BBC Radio Shropshire to announce that he is backing down on the September deadline to get agreement to transfer services like leisure centres, youth services and libraries to town and parish councils. The councils will get an extra year to come to agreement with Shropshire Council after Pate admitted that the parishes were right when they said the deadline was impossible to meet.

peoples_alliance_launch_meeting_crowd

Last night’s meeting of the People’s Alliance for Ludlow was constructive and useful meeting. The audience and speakers vented anger at cuts and the way that cuts are being handled. They came from different perspectives. Councillor Di Lyle spoke in personal capacity on how negotiations with Shropshire Council were going. Helen Hughes, chief executive of the Ludlow Assembly Rooms, said that whatever happened to funding, the Assembly Rooms would survive. Joyce Brand and Gill George briefed on threats to health services under Future Fit. Tish Dockerty gave a perspective from town traders and the worries that the independent identity of Ludlow is being threatened. Teenager Eryn Lawley spoke for young people and concerns for what services they will have in the future. David Burton chaired the meeting, seeking a mandate for establishment of the Alliance.

peoples_alliance_Erica_LawleyEryn Lawley

I had feared that the meeting would be too concerned with protest, without enough emphasis on finding solutions. That was not the case. People recognised that we have to get on with the job of negotiating the future of services, even though we hate what is happening.

The People’s Alliance for Ludlow will now be set up and I look forward to seeing it in action. It will need to move fast if it is to have any influence on Shropshire Council’s plans, though the council has announced today that more time will be allowed for negotiations with town and parish councils.

It was, I am sure, just a coincidence that Malcolm Pate made his announcement this morning. But he would not have backed down on his deadline without the growing howls of protest from parish councils and the public.

Speaking to Eric Smith on BBC Radio Shropshire this morning, Pate claimed that the council and parishes were partners and he was “working positively with them” (interview begins at 2hrs 36mins). He said: “We are not at odds with our parish and town councils. We want to work with them.”

He said that Shropshire Council had listened carefully, accepting that the parish councils were right in their complaint that not enough time had been allocated to negotiations over service transfers. He said:

We have listened carefully to town and parish councils. The conclusion that we have come to is that probably the deadline of September was too short a period, and to be fair to the, I think they were right on that. We have listened to them. We have made changes. We have found a little bit of money to give them more time to develop their plans. About 12 months. We want to help them. We want to talk to them. To see ways we can continue to develop these community services.

As far as we are concerned, it is not ‘us and them’. It’s us working together to deliver those community services which we know are valued in our villages and towns.

He said the money coming from “a little bit of leeway” in certain areas under the revised financial strategy. There are no details of this in today’s cabinet papers or any mention of the changes in today’s Shropshire Star. This suggests this welcome change is last minute back of envelope stuff that is not yet fully worked through.

I am very glad that an impossible timescale has now been abandoned. I don’t really buy Malcolm Pate’s claim that Shropshire Council is a “partner” with town and parish councils at present. These is too much uncertainty and friction caused by the way Shropshire Council has handled negotiations for service transfers. Its threat that parish councils had to agree to take on services by September caused much anger. That was evident at the People’s Alliance for Ludlow meeting last night. But we will have to work in partnership with Shropshire Council.

I said at last night’s meeting, as much as we hate and disagree with what is going on, we must still work with the council on service transfers. Not to do so would let our community down, especially our more vulnerable residents.