Shropshire Council met on Thursday morning. Council taxes will go up 4.2% in Ludlow. We learnt that income from parking and the Shrewsbury shopping centres is below claims. Huge cuts to bus subsidies were approved. But a bid to slap yet more penalty charge notices on cars has been quietly dropped.
That was the only good news. My motion on funding for market towns was blocked and Heather Kidd’s on greater transparency in planning suffered the same fate. A public question on climate change was ruled out of order as was the point of order on why the question was ruled out of order.
Did I say dispiriting? It wasn’t that good.
This is the most important council meeting of the year. Under legislation, we must set the rate of council tax and a legal budget. This coming year, the council is due to spend £593 million. At least a dozen councillors were absent.
We learnt about the income from the Darwin and Pride Hill shopping centres. Council leader Peter Nutting claimed in his council leader’s report that the council would receive £3 million in 2019/20 to support services. The financial reports show that only £2.7 million is expected. The promised income from the shopping centres, purchased only a year ago for nearly £53 million, is fading as fast as many high streets. The council has already given £0.5 million in rent discounts. Council paperwork also allows “headroom” for a further £16 in capital investment in the shopping centres.
Councillors also learn that £9 million of savings from the council’s £23 million computer upgrade are not going to happen in 2019/20 as planned.
You will soon have to pay an annual fee to have your green bins collected. I thought that was what council tax was for!
Peter Nutting once said the new parking regime could raise £2.5 million. Alas no, just £533,000 is expected in 2019/20. Elsewhere in the council paperwork we discovered that £250,000 is to be spent on new parking meters.
Let’s have some good news. The civil enforcement team, parking wardens to you and me, had planned to hire extra officers to raise £100,000 for Shirehall coffers in the process. To raise that much would require around 3,000 extra penalty charge notices to be issued (assuming two civil enforcement officers, highest rate fine and 75% of PCNs paid in time for 50% discount). That’s more than a 20% increase on current fines. That scheme has been quietly dropped. Maybe the council thought it couldn’t squeeze any more out of motorists.
Despite this, I am not expecting an end to the current parking blitz in Ludlow any time soon. Or any time. We have noticed the increase in civil enforcement officers around the town and their more zealous approach. Fines last year was second only to the 2016 blitz on our town.
Towards the end of the meeting when many councillors had left, we debated two Lib Dem motions. My motion calling for a working group to investigate the case for investment in market towns was defeated in a pre-planned Tory block vote after many had left the chamber for other business or lunch. A motion by Councillor Heather Kidd to improve the transparency of planning decisions was also defeated on a Tory whipped vote.
Did I say the meeting was dispiriting? You bet it was.