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Archive for the ‘Shropshire’ Category

Bridgnorth to have a poll on unitary council

Posted by Ken on January 5, 2007

The Shropshire Star reports that Bridgnorth district council is to hold a poll in order for the people across the Bridgnorth district to have their chance to have a say on plans for a single unitary council for Shropshire the poll will take place next week. Ballot papers for the unitary authority vote will be sent out to all eligible electors across the district and will be arriving through letter boxes on Monday and Tuesday.

The questions will be which of two options they prefer

continuing the current arrangements of county and district councils

or creating a single unitary council for Shropshire.

Voters are being urged to return their completed ballot paper immediately, in the pre-paid envelope provided, to the Independent Scrutineer at Electoral Reform Services.

The final date for receipt of ballot papers is noon on January 22.

Councillor Elizabeth Yeomans, leader of Bridgnorth District Council, said: “The implications of a major local government reorganisation for people who live and work in the district would be significant.

“Some of the concerns we have about One Council for Shropshire include the fact that local people need local services that are delivered and managed locally – the case produced by Shropshire County Council and its partners does not provide detailed evidence to show how services will get better.”

It is very nice to see that at least Bridgnorth council seems to belive in the democratic principal even as the rest of the Shropshire councils do not want the public to become involved in their plans.

I am however a little confused by the questions being asked, Carolyn Downs, Chief Executive, Shropshire County Council told me that the government had made it clear that the Status quo is not an option before when Christmas I asked why it was not an option this was her reply on the Council Blog:

Dear Ken Adams,

The Government has made it very clear that they expect cost-effective services for local people – and have asked shire councils across the country to look at three ways of doing this. The first one is creating new all-purpose unitary councils that would deliver all the services in their area. The second option is for councils to pioneer highly innovative approaches to working together, for example by pooling senior management and support staff or delivering individual services seamlessly. The third is to look for savings and improved services by the district councils and county council working more closely together in partnership. The government has also told us all that, whatever happens, we cannot stay as we are – councils will have to find better ways of working in order to release the savings and service benefits you can get from coming together as One Council. We believe that it will be impossible to find the equivalent level of financial efficiencies from closer partnership working that you can achieve with one council.

Retaining six councils retains six lots of bureaucracy and overheads, and whilst efficiencies could be found they will not be anywhere near the £7.8 million from a unitary council. We have already worked hard as councils in Shropshire to make services more seamless. For example, the county and four of the five districts/boroughs have let a contract which combines the waste collection and waste disposal services. This has taken 8 years to achieve and still 30% of the county’s population is omitted from the contract because one district has chosen not to participate.

The government in its White Paper says that over two, four and six years it will monitor councils in two tier areas that do not become unitaries, to ensure that similar levels of efficiency are delivered from enhancing two tiers. If these efficiencies are not delivered it follows that they will be taken from the financial settlement as the only way the government can enforce their ruling. This is too great a risk and would jeopardise services in the county and is the reason why Shropshire County Council, Oswestry Borough Council and South Shropshire District Council are supporting the move to One Council for Shropshire.

The other point at issue is the excuses offered by Shropshire County council for not offering a referendum to the rest of us. Also on the Council Blog

 

Carolyn Downs, Chief Executive, Shropshire County Council 27/11/2006 16:14:33

Dear Meole Man

Thank you for your contribution to the Blog regarding a referendum. Forgive me for giving such a detailed response, but it is important that people understand the advice the County Council has received on this matter.

When Ministers visited Shropshire in February this year to discuss local government structures, they met with service users and residents, business representatives, Councillors (County, District and Borough, Town and Parish levels), Chief Executives and our major partners (police, health, Learning and Skills Council, voluntary sector etc). They heard a strong response that unitary local government was change worth consideration. As a result, David Miliband, MP, wrote to all participants saying that we should not wait for the publication of the White Paper to take our work forward.

We therefore immediately considered how to ascertain and involve the views of local people in taking this work forward. Our legal advice is that neither we, nor any other local government partner in Shropshire, have the powers to undertake a referendum. We do, however, have the legal powers to undertake a postal survey/ballot regarding the services we provide.

Accordingly, we took advice from MORI who are advisors to the Local Government Association and conduct such work for many local authorities. The advice from MORI’s Chairman was:

Consulting residents on such issues is immensely challenging. Residents generally know very little about the complexities of local government structure, nor do they normally see it as important as the quality of services. Deliberative workshops allow residents to develop an informed view, by giving them time to debate the issues as they learn more about them, and seeing how informed views differ from less informed ones. They provide greater insight into residents’ views than a questionnaire based survey, and let you understand the arguments for and against a particular option.

Accordingly the County Council undertook a survey regarding customer satisfaction levels with our services with over 1,000 residents. From the 1,000 residents they invited a completely representative sample of 44 residents from all parts of the County to focus group discussions. This work is really research and not consultation, but is entirely informative and statistically valid. The full results – not selective quotes – are included in our business case at Appendix One, pages 57-99. They include some very different views, both for and against changes in local government structures, though overwhelmingly, as the report says, most people do not claim to know a great deal about local government at all and are hazy about who does what in two tier local government in Shropshire.

We have addressed the issues raised by residents in our business case which are:-

(1) what will it cost;

(2) will services improve;

(3) will rural areas have a voice;

(4) will my community be represented;

(5) what has been the experience elsewhere;

(6) will the boundaries make sense.

Nevertheless, if a ballot is undertaken with a question which conforms to the law and which presents an alternative to unitary local government (the status quo is not an option), then the County Council will provide the information to enable the public to make an informed decision.

Posted in Politicians, Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

Jobs axe ‘could cost £20m’

Posted by Ken on December 30, 2006

Shropshire taxpayers could face a £20 million bill to pay off senior council staff if their jobs are axed, a top official warned today.

Robin Hooper, chief executive of Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council, says a massive sum would be needed to sort out redundancy packages and pensions.

It is thought that 182 senior administrative posts could be scrapped if a unitary authority is created, swallowing up Shropshire’s district and borough councils.

Full story in print Shropshire Star

Posted in Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

Council masquerading as campaign group

Posted by wonkotsane on December 22, 2006

Today’s Shropshire Star carries a press release from “One Council for Shropshire” who describe themselves as a campaign group: “the group leading the campaign to create an all-powerful unitary authority in the county”.

This “campaign group” isn’t a campaign group at all, it is Shropshire County Council.

What is evident from the One Council for Shropshire blog is that regionalisation is one of the main excuses for establishing a Unitary Authority for Shropshire.  Is it a co-incidence that the main supporters of turning Shropshire into a sub-region of the West Midlands are also members of the West Midlands Regional Assembly?

Posted in Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

Bridgnorth vote postponed

Posted by wonkotsane on December 22, 2006

The planned second vote in Bridgnorth on unitary authority status for Shropshire was postponed at a meeting of the council on Wednesday night.

The second vote which has been called because councillors came up with the wrong answer last time (no) will now take place in February.

Posted in Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

Bridgnorth throws democracy out of the window

Posted by wonkotsane on December 20, 2006

Shropshire County Council is trying to replace local councils with a single unitary authority for the whole county (excluding Telford that is already a UA).

Salopians (people from Shropshire) are pretty opposed to the plans, as evidenced by independent polling commissioned by the council itself.

Some councils in the county are in favour, others are against.  One council – Bridgnorth District Council – has already rejected the proposal with the casting vote of the leader of the council being used.

That should be the end of the batter for Bridgnorth but no, the leader is on holiday over Christmas so the pro-UA councillors are calling a snap vote while she is away in the hope that they will get the right decision – ie., a vote for the UA.

Posted in Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

People should have a say on how they are governed

Posted by Ken on December 19, 2006

Ludlow MP Phillip Dunne is also a district councillor in South Shropshire, along with all other Conservative MPs in Shropshire he is calling for a referendum on the Governments pans for a Unitary Authority.

It has been made clear by the government that the present local government system is not an option, however exactly why this is the case has not been made clear. It certainly cannot be to save money or to make the services more efficient because that cannot be proven, and rate payers in some areas like Bridgnorth will have an above average increase. Although it has been suggested by some councillors that there will dramatic savings they do not seem to be prepared to put our money where there mouth is, otherwise they would also be predicting equally dramatic cuts in the rates.   

Below are a short article from Mr Dunne’s web site and two letters from the Shropshire Star      

Give people a vote on town hall shake-up

They want to sweep away the district and borough councils in favour of a unitary authority based in Shrewsbury to run all our local services.

As a district councillor in South Shropshire, I was one of the few sufficiently worried about this reduction in local democracy that I voted against this Labour-inspired shake-up.

I have three main anxieties: we don’t know enough about what this reorganisation will cost taxpayers; we don’t know if the claimed savings through reducing bureaucracy will be achieved; and we must not forget that losing 150 councillors will leave small towns and villages without a voice.

I believe strongly in local democracy. Decisions should be taken as close to the people as possible. Unitary is a move to more central control with less local accountability and more decisions devolved to remote bureaucrats.

In an area as big as Shropshire, decisions affecting the Bridgnorth and South Shropshire districts would be dominated by Shrewsbury. Those campaigning for Ludlow Hospital recall that no-one from South Shropshire was on the County committee that approved the closure of Whitcliffe Ward. I fear this is an omen of what may follow with Unitary.

I joined with all other Conservative MPs in Shropshire last week in calling for a referendum to allow local people to make this decision. There have been 36 such referenda across Britain in recent years. People should have a say on how they are governed.

 

  We should get a vote on plans

The current question of whether we should stay with our present system of local government, or change it drastically to one where our representation is by one big unitary council could require the most important decision of our time.

Yet we can see and hear some of those who want to bring in the unitary council idea wanting the change to be imposed by their own decision, without our wishes even being ascertained by a referendum.

It’s a very good thing that Philip Dunne MP is so disinclined to allow this proposed insult to democracy.

As a confirmed conspiracy theorist I look for the gleam in the eyes of those small-time politicians who think they would be in line for big and well-paid jobs in a unitary set-up.

No wonder the question of costs is being skated over. All our experience shows the difficulty of accurately costing something new and untried

The amalgamation of The Princess Royal at Telford with Shrewsbury Royal Hospital is something we know a bit about.

The new Telford hospital was run by top doctors who knew what they were doing, highly valued and brilliantly supported by the community.

Amalgamation was imposed by politicians who thought they were thinking big. We now have bankruptcy, threats of dismissals and closures, and all the nightmare resulting from thinking too big.

Let’s have a referendum. Let us be the ones that make the decision, and I’ll be voting to keep local control.

David Lake Bridgnorth

Shake-up costs more than £20m

The price tag for abolishing the six councils of Shropshire to create one new one, and maybe one for the town of Shrewsbury is not just the £20m one-off cost for local taxpayers, or the potential ongoing costs of the change for Shrewsbury and Atcham taxpayers of possibly up to 15.5 per cent, but also the loss of our identity.

Shrewsbury has a history extending 1,000 years. We have managed our town, and since 1974 our borough, providing cost-effective services.

The county council has likewise provided excellent services. Why abolish them?

Is it to satisfy the political ambition of central government or the ambition of a few at Shirehall?

That is not what the public wants. We in Shrewsbury and Atcham have a track record of listening and we will seek views on this change.

I do not agree with the change, which will be costly and have decisions on Shrewsbury made by councillors from Ludlow, Market Drayton and other parts of the county.

The borough council has a proud record of achievements. We have ambitions to do more.

So what is the choice? Expensive change with no improvements and more tax for other parts of the county or continue to improve? The answer to me is clear – no change! Now I am getting back to representing the wishes of the public.

Judith Williams Shrewsbury

 

Posted in Politicians, Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

Keith Austin

Posted by Ken on December 13, 2006

Decisions not always supported

With borough elections due in May, I ask Councillor Keith Austin, the leader of the council, to kindly reflect on his inability to listen to the electorate.

It would appear that his ego trip to gain City Status for the borough of Telford is not welcomed by the electorate, at any cost – joining the West Midland’s Regional Assembly is also not welcome by the electorate.

Car parking charges, which he agreed to, cost the ratepayer some £500,000 simply because he would not listen – and his bailing out of a private football club and his council’s maintenance of the ground, free of charge, without consulting the public, is scandalous.

He has now installed his two “magic roundabouts” with numerous traffic lights, which has caused anger at a further cost of £700,000.

In order to get elected in May, he is now endeavouring to save face with the electorate by donating or loaning £20 million to the hospital – where is this money coming from?

Whichever way, the taxpayer is paying twice for hospital services.

T R Kiernan, Telford                                                

Posted in Politicians, Shropshire | 2 Comments »

Large town’s aren’t rural

Posted by wonkotsane on December 9, 2006

Advantage West Midlands, the unelected Regional Development Agency for the region, is spending £5.9m of taxpayers money a Rural Regeneration Zone Enterprise Centre Network.  In plain English – serviced offices.

The main “hubs” will be located in Rotherwas, Hereford and Shrewsbury, Shropshire.  “Spoke” sites will be located in Leominster, Ross-on-Wye, Bridgnorth and Market Drayton.

The key word here is “rural” and you may have noticed that none of these places is particularly rural.  Shrewsbury is the county town of Shropshire and the second largest town in the county.  Rotherwas is similarly a large and busy town in Herefordshire.  Leominster, Ross-on-Wye, Bridgnorth and Market Drayton are also major towns.

The problem with having a regional quango based in the centre of England’s second city is that to them, anywhere with less than a million people is rural.  It’s people living out in the sticks that need the help, not those living in major towns.

Posted in AWM, Health, Herefordshire, Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

In place of Democracy

Posted by Ken on November 29, 2006

Shropshire County council officers have set up an online blog which allows Shropshire people to give their views on moves to create a new all-purpose council to run the county.The online diary has been launched on the county council’s website and so far has been visited more than 1,600 times, with 35 comments submitted.

The county council, together with the Oswestry Borough Council and South Shropshire District Council, have put forward a “One Council for Shropshire” proposal.

They claim services will be streamlined and money saved by having just one authority instead of the current two-tier set-up of the county and five district and borough councils.

Each week on the blog a new aspect of the proposal will be presented, and comments will be invited.

Councillor Mike Owen, county council cabinet member for well-being, said: “Over the last few months we have consulted with local people, service users, businesses and partners, and our case for One Council for Shropshire reflects their views and needs.

“But we want to continue to communicate openly and honestly with residents and listen to their comments.

“This blog is a new and exciting way of doing that, and we are pleased to see that people are already getting involved in the debate.”

The blog can be found at www.shropshire.gov.uk/blog/onecouncil.nsf

http://www.shropshirestar.co.uk/2006/11/bloggers-asked-for-opinions/

 
So far it seems most of the commenters are employed by the various councils, perhaps this will change as the general public become aware of the blog. It would seem that all of the councils have accepted the business plan for a unitary council except Bridgnorth District Council which has rejected the plan.

Hats off to Shrewsbury and Atcham council leader Peter Nutting who has said the decision to scrap Shropshire’s district councils should be made by the people following a public poll – not simply by council officials He said “all the councils should work together and ask the people of Shropshire the same question on the same day in a county-wide poll: should the authorities be united as one “super council” Also that the question should be put to the people by an independent body and not by council officials.

According to Carolyn Downs, Chief Executive, Shropshire County Council  the Secretary of State has made it very clear that one of her tests for any unitary case is to ask “does it have a broad, cross-section of support. Unfortunately this broad cross-section of support does not seem to include the council taxpayer this also from the Blog “When Ministers visited Shropshire in February this year to discuss local government structures, they met with service users and residents, business representatives, Councillors (County, District and Borough, Town and Parish levels), Chief Executives and our major partners (police, health, Learning and Skills Council, voluntary sector etc). They heard a strong response that unitary local government was change worth consideration.” “As a result, David Miliband, MP, wrote to all participants saying that we should not wait for the publication of the White Paper to take our work forward.

We therefore immediately considered how to ascertain and involve the views of local people in taking this work forward. Our legal advice is that neither we, nor any other local government partner in Shropshire, have the powers to undertake a referendum.”

The main argument against a referendum seems to fall into the same category as all other objections referenda, which boils down to the people are to stupid to understand the arguments.

“Consulting residents on such issues is immensely challenging. Residents generally know very little about the complexities of local government structure, nor do they normally see it as important as the quality of services.”

One thing which stands out is that the government have made it clear that the status quo is not an option. Which means that despite the rejection of the Regional assembly in the North East, despite the fact that the Government is to scared to ask the rest of us, despite all the polls which tell them we don’t want to divide England into EU recognised regions,  they are continuing with the process of Regionalisation.  

 

Posted in Quango’s, Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

Regional Assembly Influence?

Posted by Ken on November 19, 2006

Some figures on those savings we council tax payers are not going to get from the Shropshire Unitary Council emerged after the vote at a special meeting of the Shropshire county council at the Shirehall, unanimously backed the business case for the setting up of a unitary authority. Nice that they asked us first isn’t it.

From the Shropshire Star Councillor Pate claimed a single authority would deliver a low, sustainable council tax level of between 0 per cent and a maximum of 3.5 per cent over the whole of the county – excluding Telford & Wrekin – for the first three years.

“And even in the fourth year, our planning assumption is for no more than four per cent,” he said. “This is the equivalent of giving back to the council taxpayers of Shropshire some £4.6 million each year. The total saving over the first four years will be £34 million at least.”

Councillor Pate said unitary status would allow the county to sit alongside the metropolitan authorities and “not under the table fighting for the crumbs”.

But whilst Councillor Pate is spinning the good news which oddly is not going to be that good, because all these do called savings will not in fact be passed on to the Tax payer,  Labour’s Alan Mosley goes onto the attack against what he described as the “scaremongering and negativity” of some people regarding a new authority.

Where have we seen and heard all this sort of thing before, yes in national politics in relation to our membership of the EU, and would you belive it both Malcolm Pate, and Alan Mosley are Members of  the West Midlands Regional Assembly, Funny that!  

Posted in EU/Europe, Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

All about Saving Money

Posted by Ken on November 19, 2006

One of the major reasons stated for the creation of a Unitary Council is that by combining the services they will become more efficient and cost effective, so we can all look forward to reduction in our council taxes can’t we, well no! For some reason these saving are not actually going to mean lower taxes, strange that!

The Shropshire Star reports that the Chief Executive of Bridnorth District Council John Harmetson, is warning Bridnorth residents that they will face yearly increases to catch up with the rest of the country. Apparently Bridnorth at present has the lowest council tax rate in the county but if a unitary authority is formed council tax rates would be made equal across the county within three years. According the Mr Harmeston council tax payers in Oswestry and South Shropshire will have their taxes frozen whilst Bridgnorth residents pay extra. So where are all these savings?

As the reason for the government attempting to create these unitary councils is more to with fitting in with the EU Regionalisation Process it is not surprising that the outcome will not in fact save money or be more efficient, certainly not in the case in Bridgnorth.

As usual we get to same old government /EU spin: Harmetson said: “The White Paper heralds a new era for local government. As always, the devil will be in the detail as it emerges in legislation.

“Much debate will be had about the various proposals but the recurring theme of public services working together to improve services is one issue that should be supported.”

Something “New” got to be exiting! “working together” anyone who objects is obviously going to be a little Ludlovian or Oswestphobe!

Posted in EU/Europe, Quango’s, Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

Fire Brigade say no to regional control centre

Posted by wonkotsane on November 8, 2006

Shropshire’s fire brigade has said no to the regional control centre the British government is trying to impose in the West Midlands.

The fire brigade refutes the British government’s claim that smaller control centres can’t cope with a major incident pointing out that they have dealt with a number of major incidents, sometimes more than one at a time, and have coped perfectly well.

They point out – quite rightly – that local knowledge is very important.  There are a number of towns and villages in Shropshire that share names – there are 7 villages in the county called Brockton for instance.  When you call 999 and ask for the fire service you are put through to a local control centre who are familiar with the area and can identify these places from experience.  Looking at the bigger picture, there are 7 fire brigades in the West Midlands and place names are duplicated across all 7 areas making it virtually impossible for someone in a regional control centre in Birmingham to gain that “local” knowledge for the whole region.

The motivation for this is nothing more than regionalisation for regionalistation’s sake and it should be strenuously resisted.

Posted in Shropshire | 1 Comment »

Blists Hill gets £10m regional grant

Posted by wonkotsane on November 6, 2006

Blists Hill museum, part of the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, has been given a £10m grant by Advantage West Midlands and the European Regional Development Fund to secure its future as a viable attraction.

This is good news for Blists Hill and I am personally very glad that the museum will continue to do the excellent work that it does and provide fantastic days out for families, my own included.

However, it is important to put this grant into perspective and to remember that the organisations controlling such vast sums of money are unelected and unaccountable to the public.  There are upwards of 5.3m people living in the West Midlands euroregion and the cost of EU membership is estimated at £873 for every man woman and child in the UK every year.  This means that the West Midlands alone has contributed in the region of £4.6bn to the EU which makes the £6.5m that the EU contributed via the West Midlands Government Office look positively puny in comparison (0.1% of our contribution to be exact).  The other £3.5m was donated by Advantage West Midlands.

So yes, it is fantastic that Blists Hill has been recognised as such a valuable site and been given a large grant but it isn’t new money, it is our taxes being handed over to unelected, unaccountable quango’s for distribution to whoever they decide is worthy.  The public aren’t involved in the decision making process, they are simply required to fund it.

Posted in EU/Europe, Press, Propaganda, Shropshire, Telford | Leave a Comment »

Council Leaders Split on Unitary Council

Posted by Ken on October 27, 2006

The Shropshire Star carries a story that there is just 12 weeks to decide the fate of the county’s district authorities.

The Government announced yesterday that all shire areas will be asked if they want to to become unitary authorities, which would sound the death knell for English district councils.

In Shropshire it would mean the county council, Shrewsbury & Atcham and Oswestry borough councils and Bridgnorth, North Shropshire and South Shropshire district councils being swallowed up by a single all-powerful authority – like Telford & Wrekin.

The Star says there is a mixed reaction over the news from Council leaders across Shropshire

Councillor Heather Kidd,

Councillor Peter Nutting

Councillor David G Lloyd,

Were all in some respects for the move quoting various reasons saving money, Heather Kidd my own council leader thinks that “If we are going to have to share services anyway we might as well become a unitary authority and create something special for Shropshire.” Peter Nutting does have some reservation about the size of the unitary council.

 

Councillor Elizabeth Yeomans, Leader of Bridgnorth District Council, said: “It would be foolhardy to take such a decision prior to the publication of Sir Michael Lyons’s review of local government finance.

North Shropshire District Council leader David Minnery said the authority did not yet have an official view.

One point the Star did not mention was that Kidd, Nutting and Lloyd were all members of the Regional Assembly, I wonder which hat they will be wearing when they make their decisions will they be making those decisions in the best interest of the people of Shropshire or in the best interest of the EU. Isn’t there some sort of code of practice that precludes councillors from taking part in debates in which they have a vested interest?

Link

Posted in Quango’s, Shropshire | 1 Comment »

Farmers in region selling up

Posted by wonkotsane on October 21, 2006

On the front page of today’s Shropshire Star is a story about farmers in the West Midlands euroregion selling up.

Shropshire is the most rural county in England and the farming is a big part of the local economy yet over 2,000 farmers have folded or sold up in the last 10 years.

It looks like the West Midlands Regional Assembly’s decision to appoint a Birmingham City councillor as its rural affairs portfolio-holder hasn’t been the roaring success you would expect from appointing a city councillor to look after rural affairs.*

* Apologies for the sarcasm, I couldn’t help myself

Posted in Press, Quango’s, Shropshire | Leave a Comment »

Regional Identity

Posted by wonkotsane on October 15, 2006

With all this regional government doing such wonderful work in the “region” for so many years, you’d think that there would be a pretty strong West Midlands regional identity.

I think local radio is a good indication of identity.  There are quite a few West Midlands radio stations – BBC Radio WM, BRMB, Heart FM, etc.  But what about Shropshire?  In a “region” comprising mostly of urban sprawl including England’s second city, who do Salopians identify with?

Whilst driving across Telford the other day I scanned through the available FM radio stations in search of a break from the irritating American DJ on my station of choice, Kerrang.  I picked up no less than 4 Welsh radio stations, 4 Shropshire radio stations and probably the same number of region-wide radio stations.

This is surely another example of the falicy of the “one size fits all” regional mentality?

Posted in General, Shropshire, Telford | Leave a Comment »