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Unitary 4 Shropshire: BDC miss a rare opportunity

Before I go any further, can I say that I am in favour of a Unitary Council for Shropshire. I believe both as a County & here in Bridgnorth that we are massively over governed. With the publication of the Local Government White Paper now is the time to correct previous mistakes and make local government in Bridgnorth more efficient, open, responsive and accountable to local people.

The Local Government structure in Bridgnorth consists of the Town Council, the District Council and the County Council. The structure is bloated, inefficient, costly and confusing.

Why Unitary is a good thing:

  • Reduced Duplication: There are 6 principle authorities in Shropshire, all with Chief Executives on large salaries. Cut the duplication of Management structures.
  • Increased economies of scale: There have been many occasions when all of the authorities have struggled to attract contractors or suppliers. Largely due to the scale of the work involved. In many cases they pay through the nose due to poor competition.
  • Speedier decision making: Simple decisions on one authority can take one to three months to make. However, many decisions have to secure the approval of all three authorities extending the time to make a decision. Even where authorities come together to form a partnership, it can take years for the Councils to agree to operational terms, long before they can start tackling the real issues. All the time wasted, is time which could be better spent delivering front line services.
  • Better local accountability: Whilst a Unitary, at face value, is about sucking powers upwards, the proposal is actually to put decision making nearer to local people. Powers and spending will be devolved down to local area committees in partnership with local organisations, town & parish councils along with voting powers. Additionally, town & parish councils would see increase powers devolved directly down to them. Stronger scrutiny of decisions and involvement of local people would make for more accountable efficient services, more in tune with the needs of local people.
  • More efficient & effective local democracy: currently there are 224 Councillors in Shropshire along with 1,426 parish / town Councillors. Many people do not know who there local councillor is or indeed which council is responsible for a service. Under Unitary it would be clear which Councillors were responsible for decisions and service delivery. More powerful and tightly focus local democracy would lead increase participation at elections
  • In short… increased services and reduced Council Tax: Taken as a whole the proposals will lead to huge savings, with lower more sustainable levels of Council Tax whilst still delivering increased services.

The case for change is now overwhelming. Shropshire County Council, Oswestry Borough Council & South Shropshire District Council have published a business case for the creation of a Unitary Council for Shropshire. The report is one of the most robust I have seen. Running to 180 pages, the report breaks down all the aspects of a potential unitary.

On the flip side the financial position of the District Council has never looked so weak. It is only a matter of time before BDC hits the buffers. Officers at BDC have done an excellent job making meagre rations go so far. However, we are now seeing previous poor leadership & decision making come home to roost.

BDC’s major failing is that it falls between two stools. BDC is neither local enough nor is it strategic enough. Town and Parishes are better placed for the former & the County Council is better placed for the latter. This has lead to very parochial discussions at BDC where towns compete with each other instead of working together.

I am very proud to be British, to be an Englishman, to come from Shropshire & to have been born and raised in Bridgnorth. Bridgnorth District Council is an alien concept that means nothing to me.

Last Wednesday Bridgnorth District Council had an opportunity to add it’s support to the business case. An opportunity they squandered. Bridgnorth now will not be able to have a say on how the proposal for a new Unitary will be developed.

One Unitary Council for Shropshire is the best thing for Shropshire & Bridgnorth. Sign our petition for a Unitary 4 Shropshire here.