Clive Wright, the chief executive of Shropshire Council, and Richard Partington, managing director of Telford & Wrekin Council, have both warned that services will disappear as the authorities seek to cut millions of pounds from their budgets.
The financial situation facing both authorities is stark. Shropshire Council saved £88 million between 2009 and 2014, and is looking for further reductions of £80 million by 2017.
Telford & Wrekin Council also cut £70 million from its budget in the past six years, and now aims to slash another £35 million in three years.
Chief executive of Shropshire Council Clive Wright tells the Shropshire Star about the challenges
We are in unprecedented times where in the UK our national borrowing and debt must be brought under control to ensure economic sustainability and prosperity for future generations.
The government has said that we must be a nation that "lives within its means".
This challenge has provided a catalyst for unprecedented innovation in how the state will work with citizens. But borrowing and debt alone are not our only strategic issues.
We also need to provide sufficient and affordable housing, care for an increasingly ageing population and grow our economy while significantly improving productivity.
It is clear that the future will be one of greater self-reliance, self-responsibility and individual participation in the wellbeing of our communities.
Although economic growth is strong in the UK compared to Europe and other competitor world economies, our levels of productivity are comparatively low and this is a significant problem for us to address. Change is not just needed in the public sector, but in the private sector as well. On all fronts we must work closer together.
In response, the public sector is evolving at a pace and scale never seen before, driven by massive reductions in government funding.
In some parts of the UK there are plans for some authorities and public bodies to combine to deliver particular outcomes more efficiently in return for new powers from government. These deals under the banner of "devolution" make local authorities and their partners more accountable for growing their economies, increasing productivity and transforming public services.
In Shropshire we are exploring all of these opportunities with our local public sector partners and also by working closely with neighbouring councils.
Shropshire Council has worked hard to make services as efficient as they can be. Between 2009 and March 31 2014, the council delivered £88m of savings and the current Financial Strategy 2014/17 identifies proposals to achieve a further £80m by 2017.
Often we have delivered service improvement as well as savings. For example, our adult social care services are the lowest cost in the UK per person, while also being independently assessed as the highest quality.
However, this masks the changes ahead as further government cuts are applied and Shropshire Council will no longer be able to provide the range of services that it does now. Looking after vulnerable people and growing our economy will remain our priority.
As well as making savings Shropshire Council has also invested in future proofing our economy.
We recognise that our sparse and rural county has particular needs. Our Connecting Shropshire programme broadband rollout remains on target to connect 93 per cent of premises to the fibre broadband network by the end of 2016.
Shropshire Council will openly engage with communities to understand their priorities and therefore how we should raise and manage finances, identify what the council will provide and what communities will provide themselves. This is a "big conversation" that has already begun and will draw people in, including those who don't usually get involved. Together we can continue to make Shropshire a great and special place to live, work and invest.
Richard Partington, Telford & Wrekin Council managing director, talks about how the authority needs to change to meet its challenges.
"Telford & Wrekin faces its biggest ever challenge. Major budget reductions, increased service demand and a changing political climate nationally are combining to test us as never before. Responding to these challenges through 'old' approaches will not work and is destined to leave the people we serve dissatisfied and short-changed."
I wrote those words in 2009 – and they are every bit as true today. There is no doubt that the council's management team, working together with the cabinet, have been successful in redesigning how we deliver services and generate additional income.
Over the past six years, we have had to make savings of £70 million.
This has taken a lot of hard work, creativity, goodwill and commitment and, at times, brought uncertainty and anxiety. Overall, we have coped with the unprecedented scale of cuts better than most organisations; successfully minimising the impact on frontline services while still finding ways to make a positive difference in our community. We have:
Reduced youth unemployment by more than 50 per cent.
Attracted major new inward investment, including the MoDs national logistics hub.
Upgraded leisure facilities, including refurbishing the ice rink.
Regenerated local centres and delivered the Pride Programme including more than £1m for projects and road improvement works.
Delivered the first phase of the £250m Southwater development.
However, the challenge that still lies ahead is huge with further cuts to our grant from central Government to come. Services will have to change, some will have to be reduced, some will have to be stopped.
In order to seek to minimise the extent of the Government grant cuts to come, we have adopted a five-point plan:
Focusing on solving problems and promoting social responsibility: We are still seeing rising demands on our adult care and children and families services. We need to work in new, different ways with the community to see if some of these needs can be met by other means.
Challenging and changing the way we do things: We need to move residents towards using cheaper ways to communicate with the council and access our services. Future plans include a My Telford account to give residents access to services without the need to wait or queue.
Reducing our dependency on government grants: We have been clear that the future of Telford & Wrekin Council should not be defined by Government cuts. We have already delivered 20 per cent of our required savings over the past two years through additional income, such as our solar farm. Initiatives like this and our new housing company, Nuplace, are essential to offset cuts.
Reviewing and reorganising: We have cut over 1,000 posts and it is inevitable that we will employ fewer people in the years ahead.
Being a modern organisation with modern practices: We need to be an ever-more flexible and fast-acting organisation. We have come a long way in the last five years and it is a testament to all our staff that we continue to be a high performing council.
The challenges that lie ahead, however, cannot be overstated.
Mr Wright said Shropshire Council has coped well with the savings so far but will have to cut back on services to ensure vulnerable youngsters and the elderly are protected in the future.
He said: "Often we have delivered service improvement as well as savings. Our adult social care services are the lowest cost in the UK per person, while also being independently assessed as the highest quality.
"However, this masks the changes ahead as further government cuts are applied and Shropshire Council will no longer be able to provide the range of services it does now. Looking after vulnerable people and growing our economy will remain our priority."
Mr Partington, who said "the challenges ahead cannot be overstated" said he believed his council had also dealt well with the financial pressure but that some services will disappear.
He said: "Overall, we have coped with the unprecedented scale of cuts better than most organisations.
"The challenge that still lies ahead is huge with further cuts to our grant from central Government to come. Services will have to change, some will have to be reduced, some will have to be stopped. Some very difficult decisions lie ahead."
Mr Wright said the future would have to see individuals more involved in their own communities. He said: "It is clear the future will be one of greater self-reliance, self-responsibility and individual participation in the wellbeing of our communities."
Shropshire Council has already started to get rid of some of its libraries, and has also called on other organisations to take over youth services.
Counc leader Keith Barrow pulled no punches regarding the future of the authority as he warned that the increasing costs of adult social care, and the reduction of Government funding, will leave other services in the firing line.
He said: "What we are trying to do is look forward, certainly five years to 2020 when we believe we will have lost the total amount of the Revenue Support Grant and the consequence of losing that money is we will probably have to find another £100 million.
"We won't have enough money to do everything we are doing now. In fact, if the pressures continue to grow on the adult social care budget then there won't be enough money to do much more than pay for adult social care and children's services."
Councillor Barrow said he does not yet know what services will be cut but that it will be up to members of the public to speak up in favour of the ones they believe are most important.
Mr Partington said: "The challenge that still lies ahead is huge with further cuts to our grant from central Government to come. Services will have to change, some will have to be reduced, some will have to be stopped. Some very difficult decisions lie ahead.
"We have been determined for a long time that we will not just be victims of the cuts. I truly believe that 'the best way to predict the future is to invent it'."
Mr Partington said the council's work on providing the first phase of the £250 million Southwater development, attracting investment such as the new MoD logistics hub, and reducing youth unemployment, show that it has managed to work well to reduce the impact of the funding cuts so far.
So what does the future hold and what methods can authorities use to tackle the problems?
One idea designed to reduce the costs of local government is a suggestion favoured by Councillor Barrow – the creation of what is known as a commissioning council.
Commissioning councils do not provide their services through their own staff, they instead order them from other organisations, meaning they can theoretically run with far fewer employees. Councillor Barrow said: "With a commissioning council people make it sound very complicated but it really is very simple. We create a council which would initially be about 400 people and they would then commission other people and organisations to deliver services we require."
Telford & Wrekin's five-point plan begins by setting out a need to "solve problems and promote social responsibility".
Mr Partington said: "We must transform the way we do business as we will not have the resources that we currently do. We are still seeing rising demands on our adult care and children and families services. We need to work in new, different ways with the community to see if some of these needs can be met by other means."
The council is also looking to change the way it provides its services with the use of technology for more cost-effective reporting and communicating with the council.
It even has plans to create "My Telford" accounts for residents which would be used for all council interaction – reducing the cost of the council paper trail, and cutting down on staff time.
Another initiative favoured by both councils is to look at making money through their own commercial endeavours – Shropshire Council with the creation of ip&e, a company owned by the council which sells services across the country, and with Telford & Wrekin through the construction of its own solar farm.
But these initiatives are not without controversy.
More than 50 campaigners descended on Shirehall to protest against what they have branded "the privatisation of Shropshire Council services" in May.
Representatives from Ludlow Campaign for Fairness attended Shropshire Council's annual meeting to raise vocal criticism of ip&e. Sandy Robertson, chairman of the campaign group, said the campaigners did not believe that ip&e's work is accountable to the public.
Different tiers of local government could also have a role to play, with councils like Shrewsbury Town Council leading the way and showing they can fill some of the gaps being left by bigger organisations.
Helen Ball, clerk of the council, said: "Shrewsbury Town Council has always held the vision of 'putting Shrewsbury first' and the facilities that we provide like the Quarry, parks and play areas, allotments, flowers and Christmas lights and sporting facilities are important for maintaining Shrewsbury as the happy, safe place that we all love."
While many have accepted the necessity of the Government austerity measures there are still a significant number of vocal opponents who see the continuing reduction in funding as potentially devastating for communities.
Councillor Alan Mosley, leader of Shropshire Council's Labour group, said: "In all respects the current Government's ideology is leading to measures that are leading to severe contraction in all respects. This is particularly through the devastating cuts in funding, and more draconian cuts have recently been announced, and a growing emphasis on the privatisation of service provision." Councillor Mosley said the situation has seen many services move from the direct control of elected councillors.
He said: "In Shropshire this means that more and more services are being contracted out to the private sector or ip&e, while others are being significantly reduced and commissioned, like day care centres and youth services.
"Already many services, such as highways, street cleansing, waste, highways, recreation, much social care and education services have gone from direct control."
Services in firing line
Libraries have been one area where local government cuts have already started to take effect.
Shropshire Council has been in the process of offloading management of its libraries in a bid to save £670,000 over the next two years. The intention is that 15 of Shropshire's libraries would be managed by community organisations, while the county's seven principal libraries become "community hubs" working in partnership with other bodies.
In a report on the future of the county's libraries, Michael Lewis, manager of the service for Shropshire Council, said: "The council's vision is that traditional face-to-face services will be delivered by community-based organisations that will maximise the resources available locally and create welcoming and accessible hubs of activity."
The move has not been without controversy with the Church Stretton Library Support Group taking legal action in a bid to reverse Shropshire Council's decision to move the town's library to the nearby school.
Council leader Keith Barrow has criticised the legal approach which he says is likely to lead to the closure of more libraries.
He said: "In Church Stretton we are moving the library a short distance to the local school and 1,200 people have signed a petition and are talking about taking it to a judicial review. That would probably cost us six figures and that would then come out of the libraries budget, which just makes it more likely libraries will close."
Protecting the vulnerable
There is no greater illustration of the problems facing councils and their budgets than the difficulties in providing adult social care.
Shropshire Council overspent by more than £6 million on adult care last year, despite managing a saving of £300,000 on its overall budget of more than £200 million.
Telford & Wrekin Council has also had to invest an extra £3.25 million into its service this year.
Councillor Keith Barrow, leader of Shropshire Council, has said that money will be found to ensure the most vulnerable are protected – although the knock-on effect leaves other services vulnerable.
About £5.8 million of the overspend in adult care was put down to the growing number of people the council has to look after.
Councillor Barrow said: "Adult social care is one budget where we are constantly under pressure. We have a £6 million overspend and that is despite the fact we have redesigned the way we deliver the service and made phenomenal savings."
Councillor Barrow explained that increased life expectancy was one thing which means that costs are unlikely to be reduced in coming years.
He said: "More people are living longer and one of the things we are experiencing now is that the people who go into care homes as self funders are now running out of money. Because they run out of money they are then falling back on to the adult social care budget."
As part of its bid to save money Shropshire Council is no longer providing youth services and is instead looking to other town and parish councils, or local groups, to manage the service.
Funding has been agreed to hand over to organisations with mixed results so far.
Shrewsbury Town Council has agreed to run the service in Shrewsbury with £80,000 of funding from Shropshire Council.
However, as an illustration of the difficulties in finding people prepared to take on the services, Ludlow has been left without any youth service as there is no group prepared to take them on.
Youth club nights were expected to start running again in the area after the summer break, but despite local authorities tendering for someone to run the sessions, no-one has come forward.
Ann Hartley, Shropshire Council's Cabinet member for children's services, has said she believes the approach will result in better services for the public.
She said: "The fundamental premise of this approach to the future of youth activities is that when community organisations work collaboratively with public sector organisations they can achieve better outcomes for their communities.
"Organisations have resources – buildings, finance, people, and expertise – and by aligning these together it should be possible to use them more effectively to make a positive difference to people's lives within their communities."
Children's services across the country have been coming under financial pressure, despite remaining a high priority with local authorities who are keen not to abandon the most vulnerable youngsters.
Shropshire Council was unable to make its planned savings in the service for 2014/15 due to an increase in the number of "looked after children".
The costs were increased with the number of external foster care placements as the council sought to reduce the number of children who found themselves placed into residential care.
Safeguarding of children costs Shropshire Council £27 million a year alone, but there is no doubt that, along with adult social care, children's services are one area which will remain protected for as long as is financially possible.
Speaking about the difficulties faced in protecting the service the leader of Shropshire Council, Keith Barrow, insisted that the authority would make sure that its vulnerable residents are protected. He said: "There are certain things we won't compromise on and they are adult care and protecting children. We will always make sure the most vulnerable are looked after."
Telford & Wrekin Council also took the decision earlier this year to move about £3.25 million from contingencies to cushion the impact of cuts in Government grants to adults and children's services.
What could the financial strain mean for the collection of bins across the county?
It is one of the council services most valued by the public and one to which any changes would surely attract fierce opposition.
Earlier this year Bury Council became the first in England to move to three weekly collections.
The decision was taken in an effort to save £800,000 a year and to persuade more people to recycle.
Bury's decision to move ahead with the change attracted strong criticism with the local Government Minister Kris Hopkins insisting there was "absolutely no case" for the move.
Campaigners have argued that even fortnightly bin collections in Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin have led to an increase in fly tipping.
It is understood fly-tipping costs Telford & Wrekin Council in the region of £250,000 a year to clean up, with nearly 4,000 reported incidents from April 2013 to March 2014 – an average of 11-a-day.
Shropshire Council had to deal with nearly 1,700 incidents over the same 12-month period – a rate of nearly five a day.
One thing is for certain, any move to reduce the frequency of bin collections in Shropshire would certainly not be welcomed by the public who often cite bin collections as the service they most value from councils.
Effect on jobs
Councils have long been one of the largest employers in the county but the pressures on budgets have seen hundreds of jobs shed in the past five years.
Telford & Wrekin Council has seen more than 1,200 posts disappear since 2010, through a combination of compulsory and voluntary redundancies ,with Shropshire Council also shedding hundreds of jobs as part of cost-cutting measures.
Earlier this year a Telford cabinet report warned: "Further staffing reductions will be unavoidable as part of the ongoing service reviews required to deliver the savings required due to further cuts imposed by the Government."
Councillor Lee Carter, the authority's member for finance, said there were about 3,500 people employed by the council, with 1,200 posts already gone since 2010 through compulsory and voluntary redundancies and roles deemed no longer necessary.
Telford & Wrekin Council has been exploring the use of money-making projects – including opening a 15,000-panel solar farm at Wheat Leasows, Hadley – to meet a £35 million funding shortfall over the next three years. The finance chief said it was hoped the solar farm would provide the cash to deliver 10,000 extra care hours per year but admitted: "It's hard work. You are talking about having to find another £35 million in savings over the next three years. That is a lot of solar farms. Cutting jobs is always a last resort, but nothing is off the table."