A full council meeting took place today. The biggest item on the agenda was the council’s financial strategy through to 2020. An attempt by Lib Dem councillors to deliver more support for schools, reduce the energy used by streetlights and provide more funds for traffic calming was rejected by the Conservative majority.
I am sorry that this amendment to council’s financial strategy did not go through. It would have helped schoolchildren, communities and the environment.
The government has previously provided an Educational Support Grant to Shropshire Council. This was used to pay for school costs such as maternity cover and redundancy. The government is ending this grant from April. In response, the council is proposing to cut school budgets by £643,020 to make up for the loss of grant.
This cut will be £32.14 per primary school pupil and £14.19 per secondary pupil.
Our cash strapped schools can’t afford this. The Lib Dem motion wanted the Educational Support Grant replaced by drawing from the massive budget allocated to upgrading computing rather than from a tax on the budget for school children
Streetlights across the county are failing. Those on concrete columns are beyond their life span. The sodium (SOX) lights are being replaced by more efficient LED lights, replacing the columns if needed. But at the current rate, it will take 24 years to replace all the old SOX lights in the county.
The Lib Dem motion calls for speeding up the replacement programme, preferably to be completed in four years. It will cost £2.2 million extra a year. The money can be found from a loan from the council’s capital reserves. It has around £100 million in capital receipts in the bank. This cannot be spent on services under government rules.
The new street lights will save the council £400,000 in energy costs a year for 30 years. That will repay the loan. LEDs will reduce energy use. After the loan has been repaid, the savings can be used to fund services.
The third part of the motion sought to increase the budget for traffic calming by £500,000 a year through changing priorities in the highways budget.
Introducing the motion, Lib Dem leader Clr Roger Evans said the lighting proposals would green the council. He said teachers and children deserve our support. He noted the transport budget has been topsliced to pay for the Meole Brace roundabout. Deputy LD leader, Clr Hannah Fraser said schools were suffering death by a thousand cuts. We need to plug the funding gap for the benefit of children.
Alas, the Conservative majority that runs the council was not interested in helping schools. Clr David Minnery said there was no purpose in trying to put off cuts and, anyway, the cuts had been agreed by the Schools Forum.
Conservative members were also against replacing lights to reduce energy costs – and helping limit climate change. Their worry was that a fast replacement would store up problems for 25 to 30 years time when they will need replacing again.
There was no sympathy from the Tory seats for much needed measures to reduce traffic speeds in our villages and towns, though the issue will be looked at by a scrutiny committee. Council leader Malcolm Pate said no evidence had been presented that such schemes work.
The Conservatives voted against the Lib Dem amendment, as did the independents. Labour abstained. Duncan Kerr, Green, voted with the Lib Dems.