Before you start on this I suggest you go back and read blog #23 ‘The Villages of The Damned’, posted on the 17th June 2016.
On Monday (27the Feb 2017) I attended the Town & Parish Council Forum meeting at Shirehall. It is chaired by Conservative Councillor Cecilia Motley. Also on the top table was Conservative Councillor Stuart West and Conservative Councillor Malcolm Pate, voted Leader of The Council by his majority ruling group of Conservative councillors.
Malcolm Pate was invited by Cecilia Motley to address the assembled Shropshire Town and Parish Council Clerks, Parish Councillors and the handful of County Councillors who were there because they are also Parish Councillors.
Malcolm Pate was invited to relate the under-funding woes he was having to contend with as a result of ongoing cuts to Local Government funding by the Conservative Central Government he actively supports despite, he was at pains to emphasise: “Having been down to Parliament to put our case for more equitable funding to THREE government ministers in the last month”.
All to no avail then, Malcolm.
Those assembled were asked if they had questions or comments. They did indeed.
I kept quiet and very still throughout the detailed complaints about the problems Clerks were having getting information from an obviously under-resourced Shirehall staff, then when things went quiet and Cecilia Motley’s eyes scanned the room for any more hands, mine went up.
I told the Top Table that I didn’t blame them for what was happening to local services, because the blame sat with the people who had forced them into having to make cuts to services that they keep insisting they didn’t want to make. So that would be central government then Malcolm?
Now that was naughty of me because it was the lead-in to the point I had been dying to make throughout Malcolm Pate’s opening address.
I asked whether anyone who had been at the earlier Guildhall meeting on 14th June last year (2016), the meeting that blog #23 reports on, even vaguely remembered what I had said there? No one did. No surprise there then. Ah well, that gave me the opportunity to recount what I’d said at that Guildhall meeting, particularly the bit where I said:
I was saddened that the ad hoc clustering demanded by some of the community representatives at the meeting ignores the administrative reality of Local Plans, a point that Clive Wright [Shropshire Council Chief Executive] critically failed to point out to the more vociferous of his audience, ignoring the clues I was frantically trying to get across to him from the vantage point of my front row seat by stage-whispering: “There are one hundred and fifty three civil parishes in Shropshire”. In response he muttered something to the effect that he couldn’t see the point of what I was saying. Well, if he couldn’t the guy sitting immediately behind me could because he is the chair of the Shropshire Association of Local Councils, who said: “That’s precisely the problem!”.
That is just one of the reasons why Clive Wright didn’t help himself – he came unprepared for what should have been the business meeting everyone else thought they’d travelled all the way to Guildhall to attend. It was instead Shropshire Council’s weak attempt to plead for an understanding with the county’s town and parish council chairs and clerks who, unfortunately for Messrs Wright and Pate, were in no mood to be “understanding”.
Therein lay the seeds of what would become the ad hoc process of transferring responsibilities for non-statutory services from Shirehall to Town and Parish Councils.
With such a diverse range of Town & Parish Councils, all with their own unique requirements, how had the top table, which included the senior council officer responsible for overseeing the transfer of responsibilities and associated costs for non-statutory services like the maintenance of open spaces, libraries, and such like, thought the process of transfer to Town and Parish Councils could have been anything other than “ad hoc”, with all the concurrent balls-ups and wastes of everyone’s time that are the normal characteristics of “ad hoc” processes, as witness the problems recounted by the earlier speakers? Answer came there none.
Time had obviously mellowed “the county’s town and parish council chairs and clerks” because at Monday’s meeting they were, er, markedly less vocal than they’d been at that Guildhall meeting. Fatalism gets you like that.
I went on to make reference to Malcolm Pate’s plea for sympathy for having had his multiple submissions for fairer funding for Shropshire rejected by no fewer than THREE Conservative Government Ministers in the past month, suggesting that what seemed to have passed him by was that THREE Conservative Government Ministers hadn’t given a monkey’s dick what he thought BECAUSE he was the Conservative Leader of a Council with a Conservative majority.
There was never a cat in hell’s risk of his rocking the boat, so what was there for a government minister to worry about? I’m amazed those three government ministers didn’t tell Malcolm Pate and his delegation to take a running jump off the House of Commons terrace into the Thames.
Now, had Malcolm Pate and his delegations really wanted to get those Minister’s attention, they could have done it by telling them that unless they started to listen to the pips squeaking in the shires, on return to Shirehall members of the Conservative ruling group would be instructed to resign the Tory whip and declare as Independents!
Well, granted, the pig might not have launched itself off the top of Shirehall and flown over the county’s rooftops, but it would have got quite a bit of attention when it hit the pavement.
And why might that have worked? Because at the Conservative Councillors’ Association Conference in Scunthorpe at the end of last month (February 2017), the Headmistress herself made it absolutely clear that following the recent Copeland by-election win the local elections in England, Scotland and Wales on May 4th are “absolutely vital” in bringing down Corbyn once and for all. No one on the top table knew what the hell I was talking about!
Obviously no one in the Conservative ruling group at Shirehall reads their newspapers, and certainly not the daily briefing from the Local Government Information Unit that drops into their council-issued computer every morning of every day. Doing so would have saved Shropshire taxpayers the cost of three trips to London. But hey.
At this juncture we need more than the symbolic gesture of a face-to-face meeting with an indifferent government minister to deliver the kind of “jolly good ticking off” that the likes of Cecilia Motley and Malcolm Pate are probably very good at!
What’s needed is pressure, real pressure, enough to make a Conservative Government Minister sit up and take notice. Chance of that happening? Do me a favour. What we have, and what we will continue to have, is what you see at work at every Council meeting. No one, but no one is going to threaten The Party (and this goes for ANY political party) by doing anything that shows disunity within its ranks because it makes them vulnerable. It’s why Party Politics is such an insidious thing, it kills the plurality that puts life into democracy.
I KNEW what was about to happen when I’d finished speaking and sure enough there was that now-familiar “here he goes again” knowing look between Malcolm Pate and Conservative Councillor Claire Wild (sitting in the well of the Council Chamber); a frown and a scowl from Cecilia Motley, and an uncertain laugh from Conservative Councillor Stuart West, who came out with: “He’s electioneering!”
Electioneering? No, Councillor West, I was stating the bleedin obvious.
(And for those of such a sensitive disposition that they’ve never heard the expression before, I offer… https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bleedin%27_obvious )
True to form, they had fallen back on the Standard Defensive Position. One of them had to say it.
But I try not to despair any more. Tremellen’s First Law of Fundamental Errors is now part of my DNA and I no longer risk the directly proportionate disappointment of the un-met raised expectations that comes from expecting joined-up thinking, I tend to expect the worst and in consequence am now rarely disappointed.
So what the hell did Malcolm Pate think he was going to get out of those three Ministerial meetings in four weeks? He actually said that at each of those meetings there was an empty chair, a metaphorical chair, presumably, in which was sitting “The Treasury”.
In fact “The Treasury” wasn’t sitting IN any chair, it was sitting UNDER the Minister’s chair pulling his strings. It’s what The Treasury does. It’s what the Treasury has always done. It’s what the Treasury will continue doing until someone has the political guts to force the government-in-power to challenge the Treasury Mandarins.
It was a couple of years ago that I said Shropshire Council was rapidly becoming “central government-by-proxy.”
Well, it got there in the end.
See also… #27. The power of patronage.
PS: THIS is how it’s done, Malcolm, it’s called applying pressure by pushing the right buttons… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-39198308?utm_source=LGiU+Subscribers&utm_campaign=e7e80f357f-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_03_08&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4e47157211-e7e80f357f-198976261