Peter Nutting: Shropshire Council financial woes have been ‘overplayed’
Airports, a fresh approach to finances and embracing renewable energy – Shropshire Council’s new leader has plenty of ideas.
Councillor Peter Nutting, who represents Copthorne on Shrewsbury Town Council and runs a sports shop in the town, was elected as the authority’s new leader at a meeting on Monday night.
Yesterday, the new leader spent the morning at Shrewsbury’s Shirehall to appoint councillors as portfolio holders and get started on his plans.
One of those plans will have to be how to combat the council’s financial problems, which he says may have been “overplayed”.
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He said: “I do believe that. Although I don’t think Shropshire is rolling in money, the financial situation has been overplayed a little bit.
“Shropshire does have some money in its kitty but it’s in the capital accounts rather than the revenue accounts and what we’ve got to do is generate more revenue.
“It is a case of balancing things. I also believe there are far more opportunities to use the town and parish councils to provide some services, but we need to treat them better if we really want them to work in partnership with us.
“It does look to me that in recent years like we have just tried to dump things on them. I wouldn’t want to do that; I would want to have more partnership arrangements.”
Other projects the new leader said he hoped to focus on include the creation of an airport for the county.
The project, which was put forward just weeks ago, has already been welcomed by a number of organisations and people living in the county.
Various destinations have been mentioned including RAF Cosford. Today, Councillor Nutting suggested Tern Hill Barracks, near Market Drayton, could also be a potential site.
He said: “It is still in the early stages but I do note that there is a runway there. I don’t want anything to be done in a rush but I think we need to look at opportunities.
“I am just posing the question, does Tern Hill barracks provide an opportunity to consider that more?”
Councillor Nutting follows fellow Conservative Malcolm Pate, who held the position for 16 months after the resignation of former leader Keith Barrow. Under Councillor Pate’s leadership, the council has looked at a number of ways to generate fresh income as it struggles to balance the books.
Recently it announced a partnership with an energy company that will see it receive a small fee once residents switch to a new Shropshire-exclusive tariff.
Councillor Nutting said these are ideas he plans to build on over the next four years.
He said: “Wherever it’s possible we will do things with renewable energy.
“We’ve got this new electric company we are setting up so I’ll do whatever I can along that line but that’s always going to be on a relatively small scale to the amount of money Shropshire needs.
“We have got a lot of bigger projects and different ideas but they are at very early stages yet.”
His leadership election comes less than 12 months after he was removed from his role as portfolio holder for income generation, tasked with coming up with ideas for the council to make more money.
His suggestions had included investing in solar farms and using land earmarked for student halls in Shrewsbury as a car park while the project awaited the green light.
He had also announced he wanted to review pricing at Shrewsbury’s Quarry pool but he was sacked by council leader Malcolm Pate.
It was understood that the disagreement centred around an aborted challenge from a group of councillors to Councillor Pate’s leadership.
However Councillor Nutting, would not be drawn on the reasons behind his dismissal, and simply claimed there was a “disagreement” while Councillor Pate said he decided to “reorganise the administration”.
Now, the new leader said he hopes to use the role to embrace the potential to expand on the county’s tourism, including improving the current facilities, such as its canal system.
He said: “Particularly across north Shropshire the canals have all sorts of opportunities.
“The reality is Shrewsbury is a wonderful tourist destination and we don’t always make the most of it.
“I just think investment in the canal system could really bring long-term benefits, particularly the Montgomeryshire branch of the Shropshire Union Canal.
“If we can get it to the Welsh border it will be up to the Welsh Assembly to do that side but if we can link it in to the Welsh and Newport branch of the canal, it does provide a real opportunity for a week’s canal holiday from the Shropshire Union Canal.”
Airport, pool and money-making schemes on leader’s mind
Airport for county:
Ambitions for the county’s own airport look set to continue under Councillor Peter Nutting’s leadership, as he proves himself an advocate for the idea.
He said: “It’s probably 10 years away.
“Sleap Airport is likely to close in the next few years because it’s been bought by a quarrying group because there are lots of sand deposits there.
“Now, if Sleap airfield closes, we don’t have a commercial airport for much of Shropshire.”
Budget in spotlight:
After years of cuts, Shropshire Council has faced a tightened budget and has been forced to look at other revenue streams.
Now, its new leader says those problems may have been “overplayed” and hopes to build further on relationships with town and parish councils.
It comes after it was revealed the council would sell off £50million of assets under its new commercial strategy, along with plans to find an extra £15 million of income.
Its last leaders worried that by not joining the West Midlands Combined Authority would look like a “missed opportunity” for Shropshire Council.
Now, Councillor Nutting says he’s unsure about what the authority, made up of 12 other councils, can do for Shropshire.
He said: “I’m slightly cooler about the West Midlands than perhaps the last leadership has been but I need to go and talk to them and see what their vision for Shropshire is.”
Education and care:
Shropshire Council’s new leader will have a number of challenges to face, including the growing costs of adult social care.
He said: “I don’t have a magic answer to the adult social care problem. We are dealing with it well at the moment and will just continue to do the best we can.”
He added: “
The biggest problem we’ve got at the moment is we are going to need some new primary schools particularly where we’ve got a lot of houses being built and we are looking at that.”
Quarry swimming pool:
As a Shrewsbury Town Councillor, the council’s new leader has been heavily involved in the fight to keep the town’s Quarry pool in the town centre.
Previously, Shropshire Council has said it hopes to move the town’s swimming facilities to Sundorne – something highly contested by residents with a number of protests and marches against the idea.
However, Councillor Nutting said he has fresh ideas about the pool which he intends to explore.