Shropshire Council is to make its Community Enablement Team redundant. This comes as the council struggles with an unprecedented financial crisis. The move bizarrely seems to have the support of the cabinet member for communities. The decision flies in the face of a motion passed unanimously by Shropshire Council members on 20 September. That called for a working group to review how Shropshire Council supports communities. But now it’s official. Shropshire Council doesn’t support communities any more.
Shropshire Council is suffering an unprecedented financial crisis. It doesn’t have enough money to fund children’s services and adult social care. This comes after years of mismanagement by the council. For years under its first leader, there were no council tax rises. Some areas saw cuts. The council failed to invest in its buildings and computer systems. That meant it could not make the efficiency gains that other councils have. It pinned all its hopes on ip&e, the scandal hit council owned company which was shut down after a change of leader.
This left it unprepared for the age of austerity and George Osborne’s slashing of local council budgets. Now it is a mess. It cannot raise council tax by more than 1.99% next year. That’s not enough to cope with inflation.
In August, the chief executive announced a recruitment freeze. Those don’t usually happen until January. Earlier this week he announced a spending freeze. Shropshire Council will also become the first in the country to introduce “lock out Fridays”. All council offices will close at noon on Fridays. Staff will work from home on the last Friday of the month.
Now the council has told its Community Enablement Team they face redundancy. This has led to protests from councillors of all political parties. The community enablement officers are one of Shropshire Council’s greatest assets. They do a huge amount of work in the background supporting us Shropshire councillors and town and parish councils. They support a wide range of community groups. Here is Ludlow, our community enablement officer has recently help steer towards becoming a dementia friendly town. We are shortly to announce a new youth project. We couldn’t have got that together without the support of the Community Enablement Team.
We have been concerned about the future of the team for some time. Tracey Huffer put a motion to full council in September calling for a review of how Shropshire Council supports communities. After amendment, it was passed unanimously. Now we are left wondering what the point of that council debate was.
Not for the first time, there is a difference in view on supporting communities between the north and south of the county. In the north, there seems to be complete indifference to the role Shropshire Council has in supporting communities. Some councillors are hostile towards the Community Enablement Team and Local Joint Committees. Here in the south, we think both are vital.
The community enablement team is the only support we Ludlow councillors get from Shropshire Council. We used to hold regular briefings with one of the directors but he has gone the way of everyone critical of the dictatorial regime in Shirehall.
The axing of the Community Enablement Team is not just down to the financial crisis. For some councillors and cabinet members it is an ambition. There has been no democratic discussion of the decision and of its impact on communities. But the decision is supported by the cabinet member for communities, Joyce Barrow.
There are other rows going on about Shropshire Council’s relationship with the community. Broseley Town Council is to debate leaving Shropshire to join Telford and Wrekin. There will be more fireworks over that than we had on the fifth of November.
Perhaps there is the germ of an idea there. I am not sure out town would want to join Herefordshire. But we should declare independence. After all, what did Shropshire Council ever do for us? The Romans did more.