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'Postcode lottery' warning on future of Shropshire services

Oswestry | News | Published:

Services across Shropshire will be governed by a "postcode lottery" in the future, a senior Shropshire councillor warned today.

Shropshire Council's cabinet is expected to approve plans next week which could lead to the closure of a number of the county's public services, including arts, tourism, museums, youth activities, leisure centres, swimming pools, large libraries, public open spaces, and some bus routes.

Leisure centres and swimming pools: Shropshire Council's director of commissioning, George Candler, said the complexities of running leisure centres could make it easier for them to remain in the hands of current operators with groups, other than Shropshire Council, providing the funding.

Libraries: Agreements are in place for seven of Shropshire Council's 16 smaller libraries to be taken over by alternative management. However, the council is also seeking new management arrangements for its large libraries at Bridgnorth, Ludlow, Market Drayton, Oswestry, Shrewsbury, and Whitchurch.

Museums: The wide variety of Shropshire Council's museums mean the council will be seeking different solutions to the future management or funding of the sites. The authority's director of commissioning, George Candler, said groups would face different issues if they look to take over the sites.

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Parks: Two Shropshire Council parks affected by the proposals are considered major tourist attractions. Between them The Mere in Ellesmere and Severn Valley Country Park at Alveley attract about 500,000 visitors a year. In total the council wants groups to take over the funding of 24 countryside sites.

Under the proposal, community groups and town and parish councils will have until September to agree to take over or fund services, or they will face closure on April 1, 2017.

Councillor Alan Mosley, who represents Castlefields and Ditherington, said groups are not being given enough time to come up with funds and staffing to take over services.

He said: "It is a fairly ludicrous timescale, particularly for those town and parish councils and other organisations who do not at the present time have the capacity to manage these functions.

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"Nor do they have the finances and they will have a lot of work to do and many decisions to make about whether they simply are able to take on these functions."

Councillor Mosley said the proposals could lead to vast differences in services in communities across Shropshire, with some smaller councils unable to take over.

He said: "I think the problem is that people in Shropshire will end up with very different services depending on where they live and it will be something of a postcode lottery about whether they have a library, a sports centre, a museum, outdoor recreation, in their area.

"Clearly this is not a thing that anyone would wish to see but is a consequence of Government policy and the undermining of local and public services."

Earlier this year it was revealed that a host of Shropshire Council-funded services were under threat, including large libraries at Bridgnorth, Ludlow, Market Drayton, Oswestry, Shrewsbury, and Whitchurch.

Other services facing complete funding cuts are leisure facilities at Market Drayton, Much Wenlock, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Oswestry, Church Stretton, Bridgnorth, Ellesmere, Wem and Whitchurch.

Council-owned or funded museums are also under threat including Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, Ludlow Museum and Resource Centre, Acton Scott Working Farm, and Much Wenlock Museum.

Councillor Malcolm Pate, leader of Shropshire Council, said that without extra funding from government it will be down to town and parish councils or community groups to help maintain the county's existing services.

He said: "The reality is the situation is that we just do not have the cash to do it but what we are trying to do is to talk to partners to see if they can take this on by other means.

"We have to work with parish councils and community groups to find a different way of doing it."

A similar process has been undertaken in Telford where a number of changes have already been announced to come into force by April 2017.

They include the council considering stopping running community centres, and a number of children's centres.

However, it is also following the same route as Shropshire Council and is talking to various organisations in the borough to see if community groups or partners could run the services.

The authority was initially looking at closing libraries at Hadley, Dawley, Stirchley, Madeley, Newport and Donnington, although agreements have now been reached for them to remain open.

Markets in Madeley, Hadley, Dawley, Ironbridge, Oakengates and Newport could also be affected.

Telford & Wrekin Council has already made £80 million worth of cuts to spending since 2010.

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