Shropshire Council gives upbeat update on its huge investment in Shrewsbury shopping centres

Shropshire Council has made a lot of controversial decisions. Many have reduced help for those that most need it. The council has also focussed on Oswestry and Shrewsbury at the expense of rural areas. That’s why it decided to spend £51 million to buy three shopping centres in closed session in January 2018. It has been a mixed picture since with some new retail units opening but a general trend of store closures and rent reductions. More taxpayer’s money is to be invested in improving the stores in a climate of declining high streets. The council continued to justify its biggest ever purchase at a meeting last week, claiming that the shopping centres have a rosy future. I hope so but the council could have better invested our money in improving the social fabric of the county by building desperately needed council houses. And I have doubts that the council can succeed when retail companies can’t make many high streets work.

Shropshire Council cut £10 million a year from its highways budget. It said this cut would be reversed when the shopping centres generate enough income. That doesn’t look likely any time soon as the shopping centres generate a pre-tax income of under £1 million.

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Shropshire Council’s management of highways challenged by whistleblower – questions about performance and monitoring to be asked tomorrow

Shropshire Council’s highways contract with Kier is not hitting many of its performance targets. The council is making the usual excuses. The weather was bad. Err, welcome to Shropshire. It pleads there were teething problems with the contract. Keir has a turnover of £4.5 billion. Shropshire Council has a budget above half a billion. How come these giants struggle to introduce a highways contract that costs £21m a year?

A whistleblower has submitted evidence that Shropshire Council does not properly monitor its highway contractors, Kier and WSP. The whistleblower, a Senior Quantity Surveyor who worked as a contractor for the council, said his complaints were not investigated. That’s a contravention of the council’s whistleblowing policy. Questions are to be asked in a council committee tomorrow.

The quality of Shropshire’s highways affects everyone. In 2018/19, 12% of the county’s B and C roads needed maintenance, well above the national average of 5%. It is time to stop making excuses. It is time to ensure that council taxpayers get bangs for their bucks. It is time to end the bangs and bucking people experience travelling on the county’s rural and urban roads.  

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Shropshire Council is consulting on the future of its library services – I fear for mobile library services

Shropshire Council’s Library services were reviewed two years ago. The conclusion of that review was that three tiers of library would be established: Tier 1 Library Hubs in Shrewsbury and larger market towns, including Ludlow; Tier 2 Community Libraries in the smaller market towns such as Church Stretton; and Tier 3 Community Libraries in smaller market towns such as Craven Arms. Rural areas would be served by mobile libraries with 281 stops in all.

The new library strategy was to last for five years. But just two years into its implementation, Shropshire Council has announced another review. The council does not give a straightforward reason for the review. Rather, it says “we identified the need for a refreshed strategy that offers a robust vision with clear priorities for the library service of the future.” Given how stretched staff are within the council, and how stretched its finances are, it is inevitable that people are wondering whether the review presages another round of cuts. Otherwise why allocate so much staff time?

The council says it is committed to retaining the three tier library structure. But it hasn’t said it is committed to keeping mobile libraries. There will be a drop in session in Ludlow Library from 10am to 3pm next Wednesday, 9 October.

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This is what Shrewsbury Extinction Rebellion would have told yesterday’s Shropshire Council meeting if they had not been thrown out

I have written about events at yesterday’s meeting of Shropshire Council, including the walkout by Tory councillors who could not stomach listening to an Extinction Rebellion protest. That’s ironic. The Tories walked out because they did not want to listen to a protest about the climate emergency. They were more concerned with getting on with the business of building motorways in Shropshire.

The Conservative walkout was just ahead of the protests by millions of people around the world today at the lack of progress by our politicians on tackling the climate emergency. Many, but not all, politicians accept the threat of climate change. They just don’t understand the word emergency. Shropshire Council is a microcosm of the world’s approach to climate change. Do as little as possible as late as possible.

Richard Davies from Shrewsbury Extinction Rebellion was thrown out of the council meeting by the speaker who asked members to: “Treat [these people] with the contempt they deserve.” The Tories had a fixed look of contempt as they left. 

Today Richard has provided a copy of his intended statement. You can read it below. I hope all members of Shropshire Council and town and parish councillors read it.

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Extinction Rebellion protest at Shropshire Council today forced Tories to leave chamber – that was a disgraceful action

I have never seen such disgraceful scenes at Shropshire Council since the chief executive confiscated cameras to prevent filming of a debate in 2015. Meeting in full session, the council faced protests on the climate emergency by Shrewsbury Extinction Rebellion. As XR activists tried to address the council in guerrilla action on the behalf of our future, the Tory Speaker who oversees the meeting ordered all councillors out of the chamber. Like lambs being rounded up by a sheepdog, all the Conservative members filed out of the chamber with studied looks of disgust on their faces. Their action was a disgrace. The Speaker told councillors to treat the protest with the contempt it deserved as they were moved out by security. That was also a disgrace.

This is deeply ironic because tomorrow millions of people will be walking out of schools and workplaces to protest about lack of action on climate change. Tory councillors walked out of a council meeting because they did not want to hear a protest about climate change!

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