I hate this title, but it means services currently being delivered by the principal authority, Shropshire Council, instead being delivered locally – either by the town or parish council or local groups and companies. This is as a direct result of the difficult financial position that afflicts Shropshire Council – and the public sector generally.
A dialogue between Shropshire Council and Much Wenlock Town Council has opened regarding how best to maintain and deliver local services including the library, the museum, public open space, car parking and street lighting. Recently, however, Shropshire Council has clarified that any income from car parks could not be used to pay for services it had earmarked for budget savings. This effectively means that car parks and their perceived financial benefits are out of the equation – which will make agreement on other services more difficult. It also means that moving to local flexibility on car park charges – so important in Much Wenlock – is unlikely to be forthcoming.
Given that Shropshire Council is the tenant of parts of two burdensome properties owned by the Town Council, and that the unexpired leases (of the museum and the library) are lengthy, the next few months’ discussions are not going to be easy. Whilst recognising that Shropshire Council has made great efforts to manage its services within a much smaller budget, which has involved significant redundancy programmes and pay cuts, I shall be fighting to retain these valued services in Much Wenlock. They are used not only by Much Wenlock council taxpayers, but by many other people who live in the surrounding parishes that are not encumbered by having to maintain important listed buildings such as the Corn Exchange and the Guildhall. Local councils have largely been unaffected by austerity measures, thus far, so some challenging decisions will have to be made by town and parish councillors.
Despite lots of inflammatory press coverage, I should emphasise that no museums or libraries in Shropshire have been closed in recent years. A number of innovative solutions have ensured that they have stayed open and thrived for the benefit of local people and visitors.
Whatever the outcome of the coming weeks’ discussions, there will be consultation on the resultant options. I assure you that I will have the interests of Much Wenlock residents uppermost in mind in my endeavours to influence an equitable outcome.