Is Shropshire Council buying three shopping centres the best use of money?
Guardian headlines 17th Feb 17, 2018: “Apocalypse now for retailers”, “Big name stores are teetering on the brink”, “the past few months have seen a stream of collapses – from fashion store East to shoe chain Shoon”.
Despite this storm of bad news for the High Street, Shropshire Council has seen fit to spend £51 million of its capital budget on purchasing three shopping centres from owners – UK Commercial Property Trust Limited – that were desperate to sell and doing so without questioning why this might be and whether it was a good deal for us, the residents of Shropshire and payers of council tax.
In addition, a further £544,000 is to be spent on consultants to ‘support’ the purchase.
The council points out that this money can legally only be spent or invested on assets and infrastructure projects and not on the direct provision of council services.
Affordable housing for our young families might be a much better alternative. This could be possible provided that any borrowing is ‘prudent, affordable and sustainable’. Has our council explored this option? I leave readers to consider the possible answer.
The council’s website uses justification terminology such as: Support for the development of Shrewsbury as a ‘destination’, support for an improved and attractive retail and leisure offer and securing employment for Shropshire residents both directly and indirectly. Etc etc...
These seem to me to be empty, meaningless terms if there is no clear, costed and financially-viable plan on how to achieve them. Nor is there any word of how future long-term costs are to be met should the decision prove to be financially disastrous.
I think we might guess who will be asked to foot the bill – aka council taxpayers.
All this has taken place at the same time we are asked to accept the closure of libraries, the cutting of welfare services and an inadequate level of funding for rural buses (which, by the way, cost less than £2m per year to run) because our council tells us they need to cut costs.
What is more important to the residents of Shropshire? That our council should own – and be responsible for – three shopping malls or that they should use our money to provide the facilities that are truly needed in the county?
South Shropshire Green Party