By Alan Mosley, leader of the Labour Group on Shropshire Council
The Conservative Government and their allies in Conservative-controlled Shropshire Council are set to inflict even more damage to our public services with swingeing service cuts, tax increases for everyone, and a £51m gamble on the town’s shopping centres.
The latest Financial Strategy from Shropshire Council identifies a “funding gap” of £36.5m for 2018-19 rising to £59.3m in 2022/23. This deplorable situation arises from:
- Growing demand and demographic changes especially in Children’s Services and in Adult Service
- Unachievable cuts from previous years
- The cumulative impact of loss of funding
- Continued Government funding reductions
- The impact of inflation
So Shropshire Council proposes to increase Council Tax by 5.99% for the coming year which is the maximum allowed without a public referendum. This will raise about £8.2M per year.
As well as the council tax hike, they have four other schemes for trying to balance the budget.
Cutting funding to public services, or withdrawing it all together. For example:
- Reduction in preventative spending in adult social care – £500,000
- ‘Efficiencies’ in home to school transport – £520,000
- Reduced highways maintenance – £5M
- Reduced expenditure on public health services – £575,000
- Cut Council Tax support to the low income and vulnerable – £800,000
- Cuts in bus subsidies – £405,000
- Cuts in waste collection expenditure through possible imposition of charges for Green bin collection – £1.5M
Over the 5 years of the Strategy it is predicted that there will be £3m saved from efficiencies in the use of buildings, but not until £18m has been spent on refurbishing the Shirehall. The Digital Transformation Programme is also predicted to save £10m. The actual returns from both these projects must be viewed as speculation at this time.
The Council has now spent £51M on buying Shrewsbury’s two main shopping centres and redeeming the leases of the Riverside Centre and Medical Centre. This package is predicted to return an average of £2m per year. But substantial investment in refurbishment and renewal will be needed and many people see the investment as very high risk, even foolhardy, given current retail trends and its predicted performance longer term. It is deplorable that the future provision of services will be based on the vagaries of the rental income received from the shopping centres rather than on the needs of residents for our vital services.
A highly controversial policy of increasing car parking charges is designed to return £1M net in additional revenue.
Use of Reserves
These are reserves that can only be used once (one-offs) some of which must be replaced in future years by capital receipts from the sale of assets. It is a high risk strategy.
Obviously, this strategy follows 8 years of continuous erosion in local government financing while demands in Shropshire grow. It is a consequence of the Government’s austerity programme based on a Conservative ideology which is shared by the current council’s Conservative administration.
This is shown starkly in staffing data. Since 2014 there has been a 30% reduction is Shropshire Council’s full time equivalent staffing establishment, not including education staff, and now another 200 redundancies are planned as part of the cuts package.
Please note that even if the content of this highly dubious Strategy is achieved there will still be a £21m funding gap in 2021/22 and £24m in 2022/23. Local government and its services really are in crisis.
Your Labour Group will be speaking up for the people of Shrewsbury and Shropshire when this year’s budget is determined on Thursday 22nd February from 10.00am at the Shirehall. Why don’t you come along to show your concern for this further round of attacks on public services?
The Council is also running a so-called Consultation on its strategy and budget. Please consider taking part and show them the strength of opposition.
You might also be interested in a couple of press reports.