Unless you’re one of those people who drive around with their eyes focused rigidly on the white line down the middle of the road, you’ll have noticed the entrances to the village looking better than they have done for a while. We have the Highley Pride Volunteers to thank for that. They’re people who have “adopted” certain planted areas around the village and taken on the responsibility for keeping them looking good. Thanks to June Guest for co-ordinating their efforts in liaison with the Parish Council. Terrific job well done.
The importance of volunteer work has never been so central to local government activity, or rather what used to be local government activity because “the cuts” have savaged the local services we used to take for granted. In the relatively short time of the five years years since I was first elected in May 2013 I’ve seen us go from a land of plenty to one where even The Man would be hard pushed to make a few loaves and fishes go further than a tray of canapés and mini bites.
Which is why the parish council found itself forced into increasing its precept – the local part of the Council Tax – to cover the shortfall in grant funding from Shirehall, which likewise found itself in dire straits because of government-imposed cuts to its funding. Continued austerity hasn’t so much trickled down as brought the ceiling crashing down on our heads.
I was Chair of the Parish Council when we had to make that decision and I can assure you that every penny of the money raised will be spent in Highley to try and maintain a local service to local people, but that isn’t going to be easy and the only mannah heading our way will have to come from Heaven because it isn’t coming from Shirehall!
Delivering my Annual Report to the Annual Parish Meeting at the Severn Centre on the 24th April I had an overwhelming sense of deja vu because the opening sentence to my report in 2017 said…
“We’re all aware that the major frustration has been the state of our roads, the access roads into both ends of the village and the road between here and Bridgnorth, but after months of discussion with Highways it looks as if we might at last see action to get things sorted…”
Twelve months ago I also mentioned the success of the campaign to establish a safety zone around the school. In short, in 2017 it was all going to happen.
But then it all went pear-shaped as 2017 progressed, when the funding for the desperately needed works I had been assured were in the programme for October 2017 had been re-allocated to a highway scheme outside Idsall School in Shifnal.
I was angry because I’d argued for our road schemes for over four years (others had campaigned for a safety zone outside the school for a lot longer than that) and a lot of work had gone into their planning, not to mention a lot of officer and consultant time!
I’m still angry because earlier this year I was given assurances by the Shropshire Council Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Highways that Highley’s “postponed” work would be amongst the first contracts given to Kier when they took over as Shropshire Council’s main highways contractor at the start of April. He gave that assurance in good faith but in ignorance of what was happening in the back offices of Shirehall. In fact it was never likely to happen.
I haven’t got the space to go into the specific details of why, but suffice to say that the assurance I was given was before the February meeting of Full Council, when it was announced that £5 million was to be cut from the highways budget.
Highley’s work was consigned to the bin, whether out of ignorance of our situation or in the full knowledge of remote people who just couldn’t give a damn anyway? Well, answers on a postcard, but don’t expect an answer too soon because a further £5 million tranche of cuts to the Highways budget is planned for 2019.
The sick joke is that last year, just before the local elections in May 2017, Malcolm Pate, the THEN Leader of Shropshire Council’s Conservative group (very soon after ousted by Peter Nutting, the current incumbent), declared in the Shropshire Star that if the people of Shropshire voted his party back into power they would spend £21 million on the country’s road network. I’m on record as wondering at the time whether the date of that article, April 1st, was significant. Well, if it was, the people of Shropshire were the fools because the Conservatives got back in with an increased majority. (And for the record, they came second out of the four candidates in Highley with 282 votes. I do hope those 282 people aren’t complaining about potholes!)
The letter I had in response to my angry reaction at the loss of our highways work was laden with irony that the officer who wrote the letter was sublimely ignorant of…
Our aim continues to provide safe and well-maintained roads across the county, whilst supporting other council services. To achieve these savings we have therefore carefully considered and prioritised, in consultation with our contractors.
The integrated Transport capital budget typically funds schemes derived from Shropshire Councils Road Safety Policy (both accident led schemes and community led road safety concerns) […] the focus of this […] work will now be accident data led schemes, post-scheme safety reviews and developer led schemes for the forthcoming two financial years.
Inspections, repairs, and maintenance work funded through the highways revenue budget will be unaffected and all defects identified or reported, including potholes, will continue to be repaired in accordance with our policy.
I asked the question I asked almost five years ago: “How many children have to be killed or injured before we cross the threshold set by consultants with no idea of the communities their decisions directly impact on?”
I could add the further question: “How many cars have to be damaged by the state of our roads – acknowledged to be amongst the worst in the county – before we can be considered alongside the north of the county with an equal part to play in the long term economic plan for Shropshire?”
See earlier blog post…