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News from the Clun area – Cllr Nigel Hartin comments

March 15, 2018 9:59 AM
Originally published by Shropshire Liberal Democrats

Nigel

You will all have had your Council tax demands dropping through your door by the time you read this! - You will have seen that Shropshire Council has raised its Council tax by 6% - 3% of which, equating to approx £3.9M, was to prop up the adult social care budget, a budget which is facing growth in expenditure to meet extra demand, due in most part to our growing elderly population, of between £8 - £10M a year. Longer term the Council is currently going to be a further £59M short of balancing its budgets by 2020. Ten years ago of course around 50% of the Councils money came from the Government but by 2020 this will have reduced to nothing, leaving Shropshire along with other Councils to find its funding in other ways. This year the Government has, to its credit, given the Council £2.28M more than it was first going to but that's only half of the £5m the Council has taken out of its roads maintenance budget alone for the next financial year 2018/19 (and plans to cut another £5m from roads again in 2019/20!) , not to mention the £9m we have had to take from reserves to balance the budget this year which has followed a complete freeze on all spending except for statutory services & emergencies until the new financial year starts in April - as yet I have not heard whether this freeze on spending will be lifted but given the significant reductions in budgets across the board I am not sure it would change anything if it was! All of the above could be helped by the Government changing the way government funds local authorities - in the coming financial year the Conservative government will be spending £1,042 per head on the population in London, £788 on residents of Metropolitan areas whilst only spending £754 per head on Shropshire re

sidents.

There are so many services under severe financial pressure there isn't enough space to talk about them all so I will focus on one area which I hope will give a feel for the sorts of challenges the Council is facing as a result of underfunding, that of the future of Education Improvement Support for schools. Government support for school improvement services has reduced significantly & is now insufficient to continue to fund the Education Improvement Service (EIS). Despite this the Council retains a statutory responsibility to ensure sufficient and accessible school places for all children across a predominantly rural and sparsely populated county wit

h a high proportion of small schools (where there is limited capacity for heads to support other schools without compromising the effectiveness of their own schools) which the EIS promotes to ensure the welfare of all pupils whether they attend a local authority maintained school or an academy. The EIS in 2015 was reduced by 50% and this most recent funding cut will see the service cut in half again losing nearly half of its current staff, meaning the EIS will have to carry out its statutory function at a bare minimum level whilst reliant on drafting in support from head teachers to support other schools than their own. Such drastic reductions have significant risks, which the Council administration seem to have accepted such as a likely decline in outcomes for pupils and the proportion of good and outstanding schools from above to below national average resulting from the reductions in Education Improvement Advisors & removal of the professional development programme. The Governments withdrawal of support for EIS services is nationwide & I have argued that the Cabinet portfolio holder should get together with colleagues from other rural counties facing the same reductions to present a united case to the new education minister Damien Hinds detailing the long term damage this funding withdrawal will cause - other Councils have decided to support their Education Improvement Services, either from reserves or borrowing in the short term, however Shropshire Council will not do so arguing its better to spend £51M on buying shopping centres than £276K to keep the EIS support services to schools in place.

Finally, I had hoped to report on the outcome of the Independent review of the Police Commissioners attempt to take over the governance of the Fire Service - their report has been with the Home Office for months & we expected to hear the Ministers decision by the end of February, unfortunately as I write this there is nothing but silence from the Minister Amber Rudd. When she does decide to tell us what she has decided we then get to see what the Independent report she got actually says, which will be interesting!7

Cllr Nigel Hartin

Clun Division

Shropshire Council