Shropshire Council has cut £48 million from its budget over the last three years under pressure of government cuts. It will need to cut, or in its words “save”, £18.5m next year. The council has now set out details of the proposed cuts and is asking for public comments.
Under the proposals, recycling will get more difficult and households will pay twice over for garden waste. This is bound to cut the proportion of waste that is recycled, a proportion that is already falling.
The council is also proposing cuts to the planning team, along with culture and leisure services.
Waste and Recycling
A huge £1.5 million will be saved from the waste contract. Recycling bring banks are to be scrapped at a saving of £230,000.
The rest could come from making residents pay an annual charge for emptying green bins. This is a badly timed move. The government’s new Resources and Waste Strategy is proposing a ban on council charges for collecting green waste. In any event, households should not be charged for recycling. That’s what we pay council tax for and it is a national priority.
The government is also saying that councils must take food waste seriously. It wants weekly food waste collections which are biodigested. It doesn’t want councils to continue composting in open bins as we do in Shropshire. That emits as much methane as landfill but it allows green waste to count towards the headline recycling rate. Unlike incineration, the open biodigestion creates compost, a real benefit. But that benefit does not counter the emission of methane gas which could be used for fuel.
The government view is unlikely to become formal policy for a year or so, but Shropshire Council should make sure it is travelling in the same direction on environmental policy as ministers.
The charges for green waste and withdrawal of bring banks are bound to increase the amount of fly-tipping and waste being sent to the incinerator at Battlefield. The council won’t pay much more for clearing up fly-tipping because most of it happens on private land. It’s the landowner or tenant that will have to pay. Incineration emits more CO2 than gas powered power stations.
At the point when the government is getting more serious about being green, Shropshire Council seems to be moving in the opposite direction. We need a major overhaul of our approach to recycling green waste.
The council is making one positive move towards the environment in this budget. It says installation of new solar panels in council properties will save £100,000 in the first year. However, an awful lot of panels would need to be going up right now to save that much. And it is making no proposals to replace ageing streetlights sooner than the 35 years under current plans.
The cut of £140,000 in the planning budget is relatively small compared to many others. But it is wrong that the planning team is being cut back at a time when Shropshire Council has ambitious plans for housing and economic growth. Some extra income will come from developers paying for advice from officers. But staff will also be cut. I fear for the quality of advice that planners and councillors receive from specialist in the planning team, such as conservation.
Good planning is fundamental to the wellbeing of our county but Shropshire Council’s leaders don’t seem to understand this.
Culture and leisure
Libraries will take a hit of £98,000. What will happen is very vague. Officers say the impact of the cuts is uncertain. The suggestions are that trading activities will be increased but management posts might go and there could be less money for books and other loan items.
Footpaths won’t be maintained as well to the tune of a £50,000 saving. Well maintained rights of way are vital to our visitor economy.
The Severn Theatre is to be spun off into a non-profit trust, a long overdue move. That will must deliver a £50,000 budget cut. Twice as much is expected to be saved by a second spin off trust for the historic buildings that Shropshire Council owns.
Shropshire Council is consulting on the proposed cuts until 18 February.
This article concludes my short series on Shropshire Council’s planned cuts, though I am certain I will be writing more on this subject shortly.