Update: 26 June 2015
Main article: 25 May 2015
Nothing can be more exciting than recording a birth, though finding time to do it can be hard. Nothing can be more painful that registering a death, which needs to be done with dignity and without fuss. We might soon have to go to Shrewsbury to register a death, as well as a birth.
Shropshire Council is eyeing up reducing hours at Ludlow Registrars Office or closing it altogether. Of course the council needs to save money. Times are hard. But at the same time it wants to centralise services. It was ever thus. But to force people to take a sixty mile round trip to register the death of a loved one is cruel. And its assessment of how the changes will affect people with disabilities and mobility problems is badly flawed.
The council has launched a consultation on cutting back Registrar services (closes 26 June). It is proposing three options:
Option 1: No change.
Option 2: Close Wem and Church Stretton “under used offices” and change opening hours elsewhere. Ludlow would be reduced from 20 to 12 hours a week and staff would be made redundant. Instead of being open 10am to 2pm on weekdays, Ludlow will be open 10am to 2pm only on Monday, Thursday and Friday. Option 2 would save £50K across the county.
Option 3: Close all Registrars Offices except Shrewsbury. This will save £100K.
It costs Shropshire Council almost the same to register a death, birth or marriage in Ludlow as Shrewsbury. There is the same level of usage of the service. But the council is proposing to cut back the hours at the Registrars Office in Ludlow or even close it. The Shrewsbury Registrars Office will not be cut back under any scenario.
We are a town with a significant elderly population. A quarter of our residents are aged 65 or over, higher than in Shrewsbury or across Shropshire as a whole. A quarter of households in Ludlow have no car or van; considerably greater than the Shropshire average. If our Registrars Office closes will people have to go on the bus? We are talking about a journey three hours each way from Clee Hill to Shrewsbury.
It is simply unacceptable that people in Ludlow will have to go to Shrewsbury to register a birth, marriage or death. That’s a sixty mile round trip, a cruel imposition when a loved one has died. You cannot legally register death – or a birth – online. You have to do it in person.
We need to keep our Registrars Office in Ludlow and I do not see the case for a change in hours.
But if you live in the north of the county…
In Ludlow, 49% of potential appointments were filled in 2013/14. Under Option 2, it will get a cut in hours. Up in Oswestry, just 39% of appointment slots were filled. Under Option 2, it gets an increase.
The nature of the Registrar business means that not all appointment slots can be filled. Staff also need time for administration and other duties. In Ludlow, the Registrars Office is open for 1.5 hours for every visit by a member of the public. In Oswestry, it is 1.8 hours. Under Option 2, Ludlow will be reduced to 0.9 hours per visit and Oswestry increased to 2.1 hours.
I cannot see any demographic or operational reason for this difference in treatment.
The inadequate EINA
The Equality Impact Needs Assessment (EINA) for this consultation inadequate. I can’t see it meets legislative requirements. For example, for Ludlow the EINA says for disability: “Minimal impact as there are no sweeping changes proposed.” That’s not the case. Option 3 for this consultation is to close Ludlow Registrars Office altogether, a sweeping change in my book. The EINA for Bishops Castle, again on disability, says: “As the utilisation rate of the office is so low [disabled] people are obviously able to get to other offices to complete their business.” There are no numbers on how many people with disabilities or have mobility problems use the service at Bishop’s Castle. There are no numbers on people, with mobility issues or not, who are “obviously able to get to other offices”. We can’t meet the needs of people who are vulnerable or have mobility problems using guesswork.
. It costs Shropshire Council £70 to register a birth, marriage or death in Shrewsbury, and £67 in Ludlow.
. 49% of appointment slots in Shrewsbury are taken up, the same as in Ludlow.
. Proportion of population 65 years or older: Ludlow: Shrewsbury: 18%; Shropshire: 21%
. Proportion of households without a car: Ludlow: 25%; Shrewsbury: 22%; Shropshire: 16%.