Shropshire Council agrees to buy a shopping centre, build a road, refurbish its offices but not build council housing

Yesterday, Shropshire Council agreed in private session to buy the Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside shopping centres. BBC Radio Shropshire is suggesting that the purchase price is £60 million. The day before, the cabinet agreed to spend £300,000 on consultancy fees to examine refurbishing Shirehall at the cost of more than £18 million. If the government approves the North West Relief Road around Shrewsbury, the council will chip in £21 million and pay for any overspend. In the same breath, it is aiming to raise £1.2 million a year by imposing contributions to council tax on some of the poorest in our county.

This cruel imbalance in spending and taxation partly arises from political ambitions and dogma. It also arises from spending cuts and the obscurity of local government accounting rules that prevent us spending capital receipts on services.

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How to be cruel in one effective blow – fining the poor for being poor is Shropshire Council’s latest proposal (updated)

That’s what Shropshire Council is planning to do. Unable to balance its budget, and that is the fault of the government as well as this Conservative led council, it plans to tax some of the poorest people in our county. Yesterday, 14 December, the council voted in favour of making some of the poorest and most vulnerable in Shropshire pay 20% of their council tax bill. One member argued: “It is only fair that everyone shares the burden.” I disagreed saying: “It is not fair that the poor share the burden.”

Surely our job as a council is to protect vulnerable people, not tax them?

Continue reading “How to be cruel in one effective blow – fining the poor for being poor is Shropshire Council’s latest proposal (updated)”

It’s shocking and wrong that so many people rely on food banks – but you can help

It’s an ugly truth of our sometimes ugly age. Acccording to the Trussell Trust, the number of people making use of its 400 food banks has topped one million (but see this cricisim of the 1 million figure, its perhaps only half a million people a year).

I can’t find any data on the total number of food banks in the UK. A lot are run by voluntary organisations, including here in Ludlow. So the number of people in desperate need of food is well over half a million. And yet, the IMF says we are the fifth largest economy in the world.

Five years ago, none of us would have expected the need for food banks to have grown so quickly.

children_helped_by_ludlow_food_bank_2014

Continue reading “It’s shocking and wrong that so many people rely on food banks – but you can help”

Shropshire Council consults on underspending support schemes for needy

Two years ago, further responsibility for discretionary payments to people in need was transferred from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to local councils. That was a perfectly sensible decision as local councils are better placed to determine local needs than a central government department. But since then, Shropshire has underspent the allocated budgets for Discretionary Housing Payments and the Local Support and Prevention Fund.

The Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) scheme gives financial support towards housing costs over and above housing benefit. The Local Support and Prevention Fund (LSPF) provides support payments and crisis funds, known as prevention payments. Now Shropshire Council is consulting on how it should allocate the money in future years. The deadline for responses is 23 April.

With my limited knowledge, the criteria it is proposing for allocating funds look about right. But I do think it needs to beef up its communication strategy so that people in need know that these schemes exist. Continue reading “Shropshire Council consults on underspending support schemes for needy”

How many people are homeless in Shropshire? Shropshire Council answers my questions

As you know, I have been working on housing issues in Ludlow, including homelessness. Next Thursday (18 December), I am will ask a question at Shropshire Council main council meeting on homelessness. The council yesterday published its answer to the question (see below).

A few points strike me immediately.

Rough sleepers. The estimate of rough sleepers, ten, seems rather low. But it is difficult to estimate this number (see this guide).

Cold weather shelter. It is welcome that Shropshire Council is committed to provide temporary accommodation to anyone whom is known to be rough sleeping within Shropshire. This will be available from 15 December until end of February (longer if it’s a severe winter). Emergency accommodation will also be in place if the Met Office predicts the temperature will drop below zero degrees Celsius for three consecutive nights. Continue reading “How many people are homeless in Shropshire? Shropshire Council answers my questions”