Shropshire Council budget: Bus subsidies cut, park and ride fares up and new housing company burdened with debt

Shropshire Council has cut £48 million from its budget over the last three years under pressure of government cuts. It will need to cut, or in its words “save”, £18.5m next year. The council has now set out details of the proposed cuts and is asking for public comments.

The lengthy litany of cuts is grim. In this article, I look at buses and Shropshire Council’s plan for a new debt-ridden housing company. I also review other cuts that will affect how Shropshire Council works with local communities and will make Shirehall more distant from Ludlow than ever.

Proposed cuts by service areas

The council is to cut its subsidies to buses in the county by £405,000. That’s around a sixth of the budget of around £2.5 million. The council says it wants to “optimise or potentially rationalise the number or cost of uneconomic, underutilised bus routes.” The language of Shropshire Council’s justification for the bus cuts shows that it is giving up interest in supporting rural communities.

“Uneconomic” buses run in rural areas like Ludlow. “Underutilised” buses link villages to towns, families to medical facilities, communities to shops and people to friends.

These buses are only uneconomic in terms of fares collected. Rural buses are a social service helping people to get to shops, health care and meet friends. If we cut back buses, we will just pile costs onto other public bodies like the NHS. (List of bus subsidies.)

Concessionary fares on park and ride buses will be scrapped to save £50,000. In Shrewsbury, the concessionary return fare into the town centre will double to £1.60. In Ludlow, the concessionary return fare is currently £1.60. I am checking with Minsterley Motors but I would expect that all return fares will be £1.80 from the park and ride site, not a huge increase a substantial saving on the £3.60 for a return journey from the rest of town.

We will be meeting council officers and the bus company to look at the impact of these proposals in the next few weeks.

The budget for school transport will be cut by £717,000 as the council cuts back its provision to the lowest level it can get away with legally. Cabinet is expected to discuss this proposal later in January.

The scrapping of Shropshire’s Community Enablement Team is now a done deal saving nearly £650,000. It means that there will be even less support for rural areas like Ludlow and a greater need to refer every decision to Shirehall.

There is considerable doubt about the future of the Local Joint Committees. These are area forums and the Ludlow and Clee LJC has hosted many lively debates in recent years. But they are administered by the Community Enablement Team and that is being abolished. (There is a proposal to cut £45,000 from committee and member support but no details are given.)

The LJCs manage local youth budgets. This year the Ludlow and Clee LJC is supporting the junior youth club, the Methodist drop-in café for older children and the new Ludlow Young Health project. There is no mention of cuts to the youth budget in this consultation but neither have we seen confirmation that we will be getting a budget next year.

Shropshire Council is due to set up a housing company to build affordable and market value homes. It is not yet approved by councillors but we learn that it will make a profit of £1,025,000 after the costs of borrowing in its first year. That’s extraordinary. My guess is that this will be achieved by selling land the council owns to the company. That will burden the enterprise with debt from day one. Shropshire Council is fond of these get rich quick deals. When it bought the Shrewsbury shopping centres, it was beholden by a guarantee of £2.7 million payment in the first two years.

I am somewhat surprised by the cut of £40,000 to registrars. Some savings will come from better use of technology. But registrars will be expected to raise more income. Are they expecting more people to die or more babies? It’s more likely that charges will go up.

In my next article, I will look at cuts to public health.

Shropshire Council is consulting on the proposed cuts until 18 February.

The full list of proposed cuts.