Council debate on future of Museum Resource Centre reveals danger ahead

Last Thursday, 26 February 2015, Shropshire Council discussed the future of Ludlow Museum Resource Centre. We also discussed the issue at that evening’s Local Joint Committee.

After participating in those debates, I don’t think we yet have the right model for running Ludlow Museum Resource Centre and the county museum services. We might have had the right model if Shropshire Council had engaged with communities and supporters earlier in the process. Now we are running to catch up with each other. This is not a way to run a museum service and it’s not a way to run a council.

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Shropshire Council makes shameful decision on town and parish council grant (updated)

The decision was perhaps inevitable but that makes it no less shameful.

On Thursday morning, Shropshire Councillors voted by 43 votes to 23 to keep back more than half a million pounds of government money that was due to town and parish councils around the county.

The votes was on party lines with Labour and the independents voting for a Lib Dem amendment to dip into Shropshire Council’s reserves to ensure that local councils would get the money promised them by central government. All the Conservatives voted against the amendment. In doing so, they supported Shropshire Council retaining money that does not rightfully belong to it.

Last week, I published a letter from local government minister Kris Hopkins urging council leaders to pass the money on. This was raised during the meeting but was ignored by the 43 members that favoured taking money from parish councils.

The two members of the public who asked questions on this topic were treated shamefully.

During public questions, Rosemary Abbiss spoke for the Shropshire Association Local Councils. She asked how Shropshire Council was going to react to the Kris Hopkins letter and how it is planning to work with town and parish councils in the future. Portfolio holder for finance Mike Owen replied:

What I propose to do is to think about the question outside of this gathering and formally write to you in writing my response.

David Cooper from Bridgnorth said there are main ways in which savings could be made. He raised the Kris Hopkins letter. Seeking a “yes or no” response, Mr Cooper asked if Mike Owen was absolutely sure that going against the government’s wishes over the Council Tax Support Grant is the only realistic way this council can balance its books. Mike Owen replied:

It is a very important subject and a lot of consultation has gone on. But like the previous speaker, I think it’s important I take away your comments and observations and formally reply on behalf of myself to you outside this meeting.

These are inappropriate responses. Imagine if David Cameron stood up in Prime Minister’s Questions and told opposition members that he would go away, think and write back on an item relating to the national budget. There would be uproar. People would claim that the prime minister was not up to the job and was denying democratic debate. And of course, in the Shropshire Council case, the decision on parish council funding has been made long before Rosemary Abbiss and David Cooper get their written responses.

This was not the only time the debate was handled shamefully. During the debate on retaining the parish council funds, Mike Owen shouted: “I move that the question be put.” This is a procedural device that called an immediate vote on the Lib Dem amendment. That meant that at least three councillors, including myself, were denied the opportunity to speak before the vote. Neither council leader Keith Barrow nor the Speaker, David Ward wanted the debate to end, but Owen’s motion could not be sidestepped. The vote was held and the amendment calling for the money to be handed to town and parish councils was lost.

This decision is about more than money.  And it’s about more than politics. It’s about trust and morality. How can town and parish councils trust Shropshire Council again when it stuffs its own budgets with money due to others? And how can they respect Shropshire Council when it ducks questions and curtails debates?

In the future, town councils like Ludlow will be asked to take on more services and facilities from Shropshire Council. If that is to happen, there must be mutual trust between Shropshire Council and local councils.

That trust was severely damaged today. It was a shameful day for local government.


Shropshire Council leader backs parish council grant heist as he fails to mention minister’s letter

In today’s Shropshire Star and on BBC Radio Shropshire, Shropshire Council leader Keith Barrow has been engaged in a degree of damage limitation over his decision to hold back half a million pounds of government money intended for town and parish councils.

He said the controversial decision should have been handled differently with better consultation. But he justified the move saying parish councils held reserves and some were not putting up their precepts. He said he expected tomorrow’s council to approve the plans to retain the Council Tax Support Grant (this is money to compensate from losses parish councils would have suffered after council tax rules were changed a few years ago). The Lib Dem group will be calling for Keith Barrow to change his mind and pass the money on to town and parish councils. Continue reading


This Thursday is “Museum Question Time” at Shropshire Council

At almost the last minute, Shropshire Council has decided to allow a public debate on the future of the Ludlow Museum Resource Centre at Thursday’s meeting of Shropshire Council.

I had already put a question forward to the council meeting. You can read that and the response from the lead councillor below. The rules allow me to ask a supplementary question in the council meeting but I may not need to do so.

This morning, Shropshire Council agreed that a petition from the Friends of Ludlow Museum could be heard on Thursday. Although this petition reached the required 1,000 signatures to be heard by the full council, it was submitted after the February council agenda was finalised. Normally, it would have been slated for the May meeting of council. But this is the council meeting when the budget for the next year is debated and decided. So council managers have agreed that the petition should be heard without delay. Continue reading


Foldgate Lane housing decision delayed by Highways Agency concern over A49 access

Back in November, developers submitted plans for 137 houses off Foldgate Lane. Now the Highways Agency has said Shropshire Council can’t make a decision on the plans until the agency is satisfied that the proposed T-junction on the A49 is viable and safe.

This could be a major stumbling block for the developers. Archaeologists have also discovered an undated enclosure on the site.

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Housing off Bromfield Road – how to take part in the planning appeal

The deadline for new or additional written representations is 9 March 2015.

Tesni Properties has appealed the decision by Shropshire councillors to turn down a planning application for 215 homes off Bromfield Road and the A49 (13/03862/OUT). A three day planning inquiry will be held in the spring or summer (APP/L3245/W/14/3001117).

This post is for people interested in the planning appeal, whether they plan to take part, make their case in writing or just follow the process. It will be updated as more information becomes available. Continue reading


The Co-op says proposed Rocks Green supermarket will damage Ludlow town centre

In its objection to the proposed Rocks Green supermarket, the Midcounties Co-op (which trades at Harry Tuffins) says that there is no case for a new store (14/05573/OUT). If the 25,000 sq ft store was built, it would create more damage to trading and tourism in Ludlow than the supermarket’s proponents are suggesting. Only 40 full time equivalent new jobs will be created, the Co-op claims, not around 90 as suggested by the developer’s consultants, Indigo Planning.

Noting that Ludlow already has sufficient retail capacity to capture 86% of convenience expenditure in the local area, the Co-op says there is no capacity for another store, let alone one of this size:

There is no requirement for a new supermarket in this location either on a quantative or qualitative basis as there is insufficient expenditure for a store of this size. Consequently, if the proposal went ahead it is inevitable that it would draw trade from the town centre to the detriment of its vitality and viability.

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