#15. Good news, bad news…

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17th February 2016.

The good news isn’t so much good as brilliant. Ip&e has been axed

And the bad news? More cuts needed if statutory services are to be maintained.

The direct impact of the cuts on Highley is impossible to predict, things are happening too fast. Had I submitted this article last week then I would have missed today’s (17th February) news that Shropshire Council’s budget shortfall has grown to £19 million in the last THREE WEEKS.

Solutions have they none, or at least none they’re letting anyone else know about.

But there is a glimmer of light on the horizon. That axing of ip&e and moving staff back into Shirehall could signal a return to common sense, acknowledging that savings can be made operationally with the simple expedient of retaining Shirehall. That decision alone was a massive u-turn that took me by complete surprise – it had me dancing into the sitting room doing a Mo Farah victory move. Not a pretty sight.

I still cannot take it in that my submitting that Code of Conduct Complaint against Keith Barrow has brought us to this position.

But will it signal a full return to tried and tested ways of running a council along democratic lines? I suspect not, which is a great pity because very soon it will be a case of all hands to the pump.

Let’s be clear here, central government funding support for local government will stop altogether in five years time and allowing local councils to retain all their business rates isn’t such a big deal for Shropshire. When increased expenses and costs are netted-out against income from all streams this county is forecast to be around £4 million worse off – and that’s in addition to the cuts needed to finance the current predicted shortfall(s).

Despite what I said earlier, from what I’m seeing at Shirehall the tactical approach to finding a different, leaner-but-efficient way of working appears to involve wandering around looking at “innovative new ways of working” and holding endless rounds of consultations, rather than looking to re-introduce what worked for generations of local government administrations – only managing it properly this time around. Hopefully that’s what Malcolm Pate meant with his promise to restore democracy, transparency and accountability back into local governance.

And locally? I’ve raised the point at Scrutiny Committee that Parish Councils were not given the full implications of the cuts in central government funding BEFORE they set their Council Tax precepts. That, in my book, was a criminal oversight.

They should have been advised to raise their precept by at least the basic 1.9% increase allowed without penalty and explained to people that the choice was one of either paying more council tax or having significantly fewer services.

Further, as the forthcoming reductions in central government funding are front-loaded, with higher cuts in the earlier years, there will not now be the financial padding to soften that hit and we’re faced with the prospect of years more cuts and incremental increases in precept whether we want it or not just to stay still, because by that time we’ll be sucking the marrow out of the bones of what’s left of our local services. I kid ye not.