#58: County Councillor’s Report, first published in the (Highley) ‘Forum’ September 2019.

County Councillor’s Report

Not a lot to report or comment on this month because for some obscure reason everything “political” still closes down over August. A fellow councillor said that he’d been in Shirehall earlier in the week (I’m writing this in mid-August because of the Forum’s deadline) and reported that the place was “like the wreck of the Hesperus”. The ‘Marie Celeste’ might have been a more accurate comparison.

I suppose I can understand Parliament at Westminster shutting down to allow MPs to spend time in their constituencies, but at a local level it always seems a bit of a faff because it’s not as if local councillors spend days stuck in committees or attending rounds of meetings, as I explained in last month’s report all that is a thing of the past since the Cabinet system was introduced in 2009.

The concerns of our town or parish constituents don’t go away for a month so council officers are still in post to keep the wheels turning, although with the increasing tendency to promote “flexible” working trying to find an officer at their desk when you phone can be challenging, if often happens that your first point of contact is a request to leave a voicemail, ending with the dreaded words: “… and we’ll get back to you.”

There is some advantage to email because at least you have a paper trail, but there are often instances when you’re having to chase someone up just to check they’ve had it, the old fashioned way of confirming receipt as a simple common courtesy is sadly a thing of the past, which can be embarrassing if you’ve told a constituent that you’ll get onto their case without delay but then find yourself having to hang fire getting back to them because you’ve been assured you’ll get a response “ASAP” and then hear nothing.

Which is why I’ve given up making promises or indeed raising expectations, because a central plank of Tremellen’s First Law of Fundamental Errors acknowledges that disappointment is directly proportional to expectation – the greater the expectation the greater the disappointment. Conditional assurances like: “I’ll get back to you as soon as I hear something”, are meaningless because making an outcome ‘conditional’ on something else happening is to introduce doubt; the hedging of a bet where the chances are odds-on.

I’ve always tried desperately hard to avoid doing that conditional thing, but over the last few years it has got increasingly harder because “non executive councillors” (by definition those councillors who are not one of the ten members of Shropshire Council Cabinet) have very little power, they are essentially conduits of information.

Add to that the obvious North Shropshire bias evident in both Cabinet and the Authority as a whole and you have a recipe for the factional make-up of Shirehall, where even some Members of the majority Conservative group can find themselves representing areas that are overlooked for funding. It’s a bit of a postcode lottery, but one weighted in favour of the north.

Pretty much every area to the south, east and west of the Wenlock Edge consistently loses out in favour of the north and north-west, which is why I have – for a VERY long time – insisted that the Wenlock Edge isn’t just a geological barrier for the powers-that-be at Shirehall, it’s a psychological barrier.

Shrewsbury is an anomaly because a massive amount of funding goes into the town despite it being the power base of the Labour group at Shirehall (virtually all Labour seats are in Shrewsbury electoral wards). So how come? Simples. Shrewsbury Town Council sees power shared between Labour and Conservative, two recent (successive) mayors of Shrewsbury have been Labour and Conservative, their electoral self-interests are mutual. So yet another factor that sees the self-interest of “the north” work against the desperate need of “the south” for a fairer share of funding.

But at least we have each other.

Dave Tremellen

Independent Councillor for Highley Ward of Shropshire Council.