It’s time that Shropshire Council gave town and parish councils a fairer financial deal. On Thursday, I am calling for the unitary authority to use part of the proceeds from the sale of redundant buildings to help councils prepare to take on amenities such as youth, library, museum and leisure services, along with parks and play areas.
Shropshire Council’s estate is shrinking and buildings are being sold off around the county. In Ludlow, the former council offices at Stone House are due to be sold to Purcell Developments for an undisclosed but substantial sum. Part of the receipts from Stone House should be transferred to Ludlow Town Council to help it take on extra services.
The rule has long been that income from the sale of buildings must be used for capital projects. This was to discourage councils from selling their best assets to plug holes in their budgets. But now the public sector is shrinking, councils all over the country are selling buildings they no longer need.
The government recognised that councils are finding it hard to spend capital receipts, so it decided to change the rules. From October, councils will be able to use income from the sale of buildings and land to fund improvements to local services.
Shropshire Council is selling several buildings at present. I think this money should be used purposefully to help town and parish councils build capacity to run services being transferred from Shropshire Council.
In Ludlow, Shropshire Council has suggested a wide range of services might be transferred to local management, including youth, library, museum and leisure services. This is posing a big challenge to Ludlow Town Council. The council is working hard to build capacity to take on services currently run from Shirehall but it needs more money to recruit and train staff.
That’s where the sale of Stone House comes in. I think it is only fair that at least some of the money from the sale of Ludlow buildings comes back to Ludlow.
I am hoping to persuade councillors to back this position at the next Shropshire Council meeting on 22 September. I have put forward a simple motion (below) requesting that some income from future capital sales is given to town and parish councils to help them take on services from Shropshire Council. The money would be used to help transfer and reorganise services, and train staff.
I think the council owes this to town and parish councils. In December 2014, it held back nearly £1 million of government money destined for parish councils across the county. That has reduced their capacity to take on services that Shropshire Council is no longer prepared to run.
If town and parish councils are going to take on more services from Shropshire Council, they must be given the resources. The new rules provide an ideal opportunity to ensure that the planned service transfers work effectively.
The Stone House offices were built by the former South Shropshire District Council in 1989 and transferred to Shropshire Council when the unitary authority was created in 2009. The South Planning Committee approved proposals by Churchill Retirement Living for 44 retirement apartments and 4 affordable units on 13 September (16/02033/FUL). Purcell Developments, which is working with Churchill, is contracted to buy the site once planning permission is granted.
Motion to council on capital asset income
In March, the communities department published its final Statutory Guidance on the Flexible Use of Capital Receipts. This guidance will allow Shropshire Council to use capital receipts for service transformation from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2019. The guidance states:
“Qualifying expenditure is expenditure on any project that is designed to generate ongoing revenue savings in the delivery of public services and/or transform service delivery to reduce costs and/or transform service delivery in a way that reduces costs or demand for services in future years for any of the public sector delivery partners. Within this definition, it is for individual local authorities to decide whether or not a project qualifies for the flexibility.”
This council requires that Shropshire Council allocates a proportion of income from future capital sales to the county’s town and parish councils to support their contribution to transforming service delivery.