Shropshire Council’s cabinet has been almost totally rebuilt. It is more moderate and more focused on getting the job done. But it has only weeks to prove itself as the next waves of cuts sweep our county.
Malcolm Pate, as leader, will oversee the council’s strategy and business planning. He’ll have two deputy portfolio holders.
Tim Barker will take control of ip&e, the council’s private company. We can expect better analysis and communication of what is happening within ip&e. His biggest challenge will be to give credibility to this embattled company. It is a child of Barrow’s belief that councils are not fit to run public services. ip&e needs reinventing – and if it can’t be reinvented, it should be scrapped.
Pate’s second deputy is long standing ally, Peter Nutting. Nutting is a Barrow anti-particle. That meant he was excluded from Barrow’s West Wing club. As Pate’s right hand man, he will have responsibility for income generation and efficiency savings.
The new council leader Malcolm Pate has had to keep one of Keith Barrow’s closest associates, Steven Charmley, as deputy leader. Pate clearly recognises that he can only survive if he commands broad support across the Tory group on Shropshire Council. Former leader Keith Barrow had lost that support. But the reason that Charmley remains is because he is elected by the conservative group as a whole. Keeping Charmley in this prominent post will make root and branch changes to the way that Shropshire Council works much harder. Charmley has a lot of experience but he is a key advocate of selling everything you can and minimising Shropshire Council’s contribution to everything else. In other words, he is a disciple of Keith Barrow’s way of running things.
One of the areas to watch in the new cabinet is “creating resilient communities”. Cecilia Motley takes on a new portfolio for rural services and communities. Motley represents an area of South Shropshire. She has huge experience as the council’s rural spokesperson and speaks for the council on rural and arts bodies. At last, we have a real rural voice on the cabinet.
Gwilym Butler returns to cabinet having resigned after a row with Keith Barrow early last year. He returns as deputy portfolio holder for town and parish councils. Local councils were outraged last year when Shropshire Council refused to pass on a government grant due to them. With Butler’s appointment, it looks like Shropshire Council will at last listen to local people. He will have his work cut out to rebuild the council’s damaged relationship with the parishes of Shropshire.
Stuart West takes over leisure and culture as a full portfolio holder. I think it is great that the arts has at last been given the priority it needs in cabinet. I’ll be inviting him to drop by Ludlow as soon as he can to tell us just where Shropshire Council is going on arts, heritage, tourism and sports.
One of the last of the Barrow hard liners has gone. Claire Wild had already been demoted from the transport portfolio, where she had overseen the growing problems in managing the Ringway contract and the near decimation of rural bus services. She was shunted by Barrow into a minor post overseeing the first stages of the university project.
After Wild’s exit, the university will become the responsibility of David Minnery who takes on the portfolio for children and young people. Robert Tindall takes on theestates portfolio with responsibility for the future of Shirehall and Shropshire Council’s still sprawling estate.
There is no change at highways and transportation. Simon Jones remains at the helm with Peter Adams as his deputy. Simon began well when he replaced Claire Wild but there is regrettably no sign that he is going to transform the way that his department works. An overhaul is long overdue.
After I was elected as a councillor in March 2014, I was astounded at how impossible it is to find out what is going on in Shropshire Council. In this reshuffle, a young councillor Dean Carroll has been given a brief as deputy portfolio holder for members information and members communications. The Barrow regime spent a lot of its time trying to keep information from councillors and residents. Having Carroll in post to tell us what is going on will, I hope, improve the transparency and efficiency of the council.
This has been a huge cabinet reshuffle – in Shropshire terms. Malcolm Pate has put in place a more coherent cabinet than any line up that Keith Barrow put in place. Barrow tended to appoint his political supporters and wrap responsibilities around them. The new line up looks to me more about getting the job done than supporting the politics of the leader.
There is still an elephant in the cabinet room. The storm of cuts is to continue. The chaotic steering of the Barrow era seemed destined to wreck Shropshire Council on the rocks of George Osborne’s cuts. Can this new cabinet take a different tack? Can it save the council and ensure that it retains a civic role in guiding the future of the county?
We are now well into preparing the budget for 2015/16 and subsequent years. This means this new cabinet has only a few weeks to show us what the future of this council and county will look like. If that future is anything like Keith Barrow’s vision for our county, the new cabinet will have fallen at the first fence.