• Feb 25, 2021:
    • Council tax in Ludlow to go up 4% for a Band D property in Ludlow from 1 April but Ludford still gets a cheap deal

      It's that time of the year again. This morning, Shropshire Council agreed to council tax rises for the next financial year. Band D households in Ludlow will pay £2,030.25, up from £1,945.34 this year - a rise of 4.4%.

      Council tax has four components. By far the largest is Shropshire Council's charge, which is 74% of your council tax bill. The police commissioner takes 12%, Ludlow Town Council 9% and fire and rescue 5%.

      Most of Ludlow's expansion will be in Ludford parish which charges just £32.78 as its parish precept. The Ludford Question can only be resolved by merging Ludford and Ludlow into a single council. That could lead to an additional £90,000 income a year from the combined parish precept once the planned new housing is built.

      Of this Band D charge, £184.64 will go to pay Ludlow Town Council's precept. That's up 6% from £174.27 this year. Shropshire & Wrekin Fire Authority will receive £104.20 for a Band D property, up £2% from £102.25 this year. The West Mercia Police & Crime Commissioner's charge is £240.19, up 7% from £225.20.

      The overall increase has been kept down after a decision by Shropshire Council leader Peter Nutting to raid reserves, something he has usually argued against, to keep the unitary authority's share of the tax rise to 3.99% rather than the maximum allowed of 4.99%. Unless there is a revolution in the way that local councils are funded the council will need to add the 1% reduction to next year's increase to fund the soaring costs of adult social care.

      Few people want to pay more tax than they have too. The 3.99% rise will not be welcomed but people will accept it is better than 4.99%.

      There are local elections in May and it helps to keep local taxes down.

      Shropshire Council's budget next year will be £554.3m, more than half of which is allocated to education and other matters and cannot be used flexibly by the council. It will have £208.6m to spend on everything from roads to looked after children and adult social care.

      Ludlow Town Council now has the third highest precept among Shropshire's market towns. It has had reduced income this year mostly due to reduced activity on the market.

      Almost all of Ludlow's development will be in Ludford Parish which has increased its precept from £24.67 to £32.78. Despite the 33% hike, residents in Ludford pay under a fifth of the precept that residents in the Ludlow Town Council area pay. This is known as the Ludford Question.

      Market towns across the county are having to build housing in adjacent parishes to meet their needs, along with Shropshire Council and government targets. But those parishes do not contribute to their market town's resources. Several market towns have begun to discuss this problem, including Oswestry and Bridgnorth. But there has been no discussion at Ludlow Town Council despite it being a pressing issue.

      If Ludlow and Ludford were merged, an extra £90,000 extra income could be raised once developments are completed in Ludford Parish. Taxes are never popular but neither is a decline in services. It would be wrong if expansion of our town is at the expense of the financial viability of our civic services. It would be wrong if people moving into Ludford did not contribute their share to supporting the viability of our town.

  • Feb 24, 2021:
    • Shropshire councillors must support the Climate and Ecological Emergency bill tomorrow

      Shropshire Council has given a commitment to tackle the climate emergency.

      In parliament, a private members bill is moving towards its second reading next month. It aims to strengthen the government's resolve and actions to tackle the growing climate emergency and the devasting loss of biodiversity. A motion tomorrow will ask the council to support the bill. It will be a test of Shropshire Council's resolve.

      Is it up to the mark on tackling the climate and ecological emergencies? Will the whipped Tory majority reject it? Council leader Peter Nutting is in the camp that wants to fudge climate change commitments. But his portfolio holder Dean Carroll has a stronger belief in the need for change. It is over to Dean to deliver tomorrow.

      The Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) bill is a Private Members' Bill. It makes sense. It ticks just about all the boxes on tackling the climate emergency and beginning to restore ecology richness across the UK. Because it is not government legislation, the chances are it will fall before this parliamentary session ends in late April. Some private member's bills succeed if they have government backing. Some are barely noticed and are never heard of again. In between those two outcomes are the bills that shape minds, influence lawmakers and whose principles are eventually enshrined in other legislation. There is a chance that if there is sufficient public pressure the government will adopt the bill. But it is more likely that Boris Johnson, forever the grandstander, will want to get a signature climate bill to be approved on eve of COP26 in November. He can then fly to join the world leaders, NGOs, reporters and influencers that have flown into the Glasgow to argue that we should cut our carbon emissions including by, cough, cough, not flying so much.

      This political context is important. Conservatives are notoriously reluctant to sign up for any motions, policies or laws if they did not originate from their caucus. When early day motion was laid before parliament last September to "express profound alarm at the climate and ecological emergency, with wildfires raging in California, and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melting in line with worst case scenario predictions for sea level rise" not a single Conservative signed it. That's par for the course.

      The CCE Bill has roots grounded in a campaign by Extinction Rebellion and green leaning politicians who have called for a Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. The Bill is sponsored by Caroline Lucas, our country's only Green Party MP.

      The bill is driven by the realisation - not a new one - that we must implement deeper carbon cuts sooner. It is easy to think the UK is a flagship after it has legislated in 2019 for net zero emissions by 2050. But we need to stride faster because global warming is spinning out of control.

      There will be many who argue that we should not do anything while other countries are sloth like in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions and progress towards net zero. That's about leadership. Since Tony Blair's days, Britain has claimed it is a world leader in climate change. Our scientists have made some of the most important contributions to the understanding of the climate and ecological emergency, and to ensuring the public understands the climate and ecological emergency.

      The CCE Bill is an alliance bill that has been written by scientists, lawyers and activists. It is ambitious but if we are to tackle the climate emergency, we must be ambitious.

      The CEE bill will ensure that:

      • The UK's full carbon footprint is considered, including all of the emissions linked to the production and transport of goods from overseas that we consume here.
      • Natural solutions are used instead of Negative Emissions Technology that may not work at scale and offer a false sense of reassurance.
      • The focus should on nature as much as climate, protecting and conserving habitats and species in the UK.
      • Citizens are given a say in how we move forward, building on the success of the UK's Climate Assembly.

      Here are the bill's ten objectives in more detail:

      1. Ensure that the UK contributes fairly to climate mitigation consistent with limiting global temperatures increase to 1.5°C (compared to average pre-industrial levels).
      2. Ensure that the UK takes full responsibility in accounting for its entire greenhouse gas footprint (consumption emissions, passenger international shipping, flights, and land-based transport) domestically and internationally.
      3. Ensure that the UK first and foremost reduces its anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, to the point of cessation (zero), at energy sources.
      4. Ensure that any negative emissions technologies may only be considered with proven efficacy and stringent safeguarding against any negative impacts on any ecosystems.
      5. Ensure the restricted conditions for proposed negative emissions' technologies for the purpose of carbon offsetting only when all alternative carbon neutral approaches have been primarily pursued. Negative emissions technologies must not be factored into prospective mitigation pathways as a substitute for societal decarbonisation.
      6. Ensure that the UK abides by annual national carbon budgets and in enacting the transition to a carbon neutral economy the burden must not fall on the poorest in society.
      7. Ensure that the UK restores and regenerates its habitats by implementing robust measures to protect and enhance the variety, abundance and health of soils and biodiversity in both rural and urban/human-modified ecosystems and in so doing, enriches natural carbon sinks.
      8. Ensure that the UK implements conditions that protect health and resilience of ecosystems along both domestic and UK global supply chains (including extraction of natural resources, land degradation, pollution, and waste), and thus mitigate the UK's ecological footprint.
      9. Ensure that independent bodies create benchmark standards to robustly evaluate the progress of the UK's climate mitigation and ecological protection and restoration pathways
      10. Ensure that the strategy and solutions to enact this law are thoroughly democratic: a citizens' assembly - randomly selected but representative sample of the UK population - to work alongside Government, under the scrutiny of Parliament.

      The motion to be debated by Shropshire Council on 25 February 2020

      The following motion has been received from Councillor Julian Dean and is supported by Councillor Kate Halliday and the Liberal Democrat Group.

      Support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill

      Humans have already caused irreversible climate change, the impacts of which are being felt in the UK and around the world. Global temperatures have increased by 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels. Atmospheric CO2 levels are above 400 parts per million (ppm) and continue to rise. This far exceeds the 350 ppm deemed to be a safe level for humanity.

      Without more significant and sustained action, the world is set to exceed the Paris Agreement's 1.5°C limit between 2030 and 2040. Therefore the current UK target of net zero by 2050 is not satisfactory. It is too little too late.

      The increase in harm caused by a rise of 2°C rather than 1.5°C is significant. This is described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C published in October 2018. According to the IPCC, limiting heating to 1.5°C may still be possible with ambitious action from national and sub-national authorities, civil society, the private sector and local communities. The costs of failing to address this crisis will far outstrip the investments required to prevent it. Investing now will bring many benefits in the form of good jobs, breathable cities and thriving communities.

      Council notes that

      (i) This council has declared a climate emergency;

      (ii) Many local authorities have established Citizens' Assemblies that are playing an important role in assisting them in their plans to achieve net zero by 2030 or before; and that

      (iii) There is a Bill before Parliament-the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (published as the "Climate and Ecology Bill")-according to which the Government must develop an emergency strategy that:

      1. requires that the UK plays its fair and proper role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures;
      2. ensures that all the UK's consumption emissions are accounted for;
      3. includes emissions from aviation and shipping;
      4. protects and restores biodiverse habitats along overseas supply chains;
      5. restores and regenerates the UK's depleted soils, wildlife habitats and species populations to healthy and robust states, maximising their capacity to absorb CO2and their resistance to climate heating;
      6. sets up an independent Citizens' Assembly, representative of the UK's population, to engage with Parliament and Government and help develop the emergency strategy.

      Council therefore resolves to:

      (i) Support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill

      (ii) Inform the local media of this decision;

      (iii) Write to local MPs, asking them to support the Bill; and

      (iv) Write to the CEE Bill Alliance, the organisers of the campaign for the Bill, expressing its support (campaign@ceebill.uk).

    • Food on a budget in south west Shropshire - Healthwatch Shropshire wants to know your views

      Food banks in south west Shropshire have never been busier. Ludlow Food Bank alone gave out 560 food parcels in 2020, up from 471 the year before. Bishop's Castle food bank has also been busy. Now Healthwatch Shropshire is conducting research aimed at understanding food insecurity in south west Shropshire. It wants to hear from those who are struggling to get enough affordable and nutritious food.

      Food insecurity is when you do not have enough affordable and nutritious food to help you live healthily.

      Some people in rural communities can face additional challenges in getting food locally and need to travel to shop. This can add to any financial difficulties they may already experience because of lower wages and higher energy bills.

      The Shaping Places project aims to understand the reasons behind food insecurity and your evidence may help to secure additional funding over the next 3 years to deliver programmes to relieve food poverty in South West Shropshire - Bishops Castle, Craven Arms, Church Stretton, Ludlow, and the surrounding villages and hamlets. People in rural communities can face additional challenges in getting food locally and need to travel to shop. This adds to any financial difficulties they may already experience from lower wages and higher energy bills.

      If you are affected by food poverty in any way, please take part in the life experience survey. The survey asks, on a confidential basis, whether you find it difficult to buy healthy food, whether you or your family skip meals and how long this has been going on. Additional questions cover your access to shops, which sort of shops you use and whether you have ever used a food bank.

      If you are an organisation involved in helping alleviate food poverty, please complete the organisation survey. This asks about the organisation and how it helps address food insecurity. The project team also ask would make the most difference to widening access to healthy affordable food.

      There are also opportunities to take part in Zoom discussions on food insecurity.

      The Healthier Lives project

      Shropshire Council and its partners have been successful in securing 'Shaping Places for Healthier Lives' grant funding from the Local Government Association (LGA) supported by Health Foundation. 'Shaping Places' focuses on reducing health inequalities by addressing a complex problem.

      In this case it is food insecurity. During the 'Discovery' phase the focus is on South-West Shropshire, which includes the towns of Bishops Castle, Ludlow, Craven Arms, Church Stretton and their surrounding villages and hamlets. The grant will be used to work alongside communities in South-West Shropshire to better understand the reasons causing food insecurity and the impact it has on people's lives.

      The findings will inform a final application to the LGA for significant additional funding over the next three years. If successful, this will then enable the project team to meaningfully co-produce and deliver sustainable action to address food insecurity with rural communities across the whole of Shropshire.

      The project team includes Healthwatch Shropshire, the Shropshire Food Poverty Alliance, Shropshire Council and Citizens Advice Shropshire.

  • Feb 23, 2021:
    • Ludlow Town Council approves funding to keep our junior youth club going for another year

      Shropshire Council has centralised youth support services and will in future be running a team of youth outreach workers from Shirehall. It is not supporting youth clubs which must now be independently funded from charitable groups or local councils.

      Last night, Ludlow Town Council stepped into the breech and agreed to fund Ludlow's junior youth club for the next financial year. This is great news. We have always needed strong youth support in Ludlow. The pandemic and school closures have put a lot of strain on young people who have been isolated from many of their friends and unable to benefit from social engagement with peers and their teachers. The town council has always shown its support young people and it is good to know that even with its financial income having been reduced this year due to the pandemic, it is still backing the young people in our town to the hilt.

      Tracey Huffer, who chairs the Ludlow Youth Partnership, is recovering from Covid-19 and submitted a statement to councillors beforehand. She said:

      "It is much more than a 'youth club'! It's a safe place where our young people can go, share problems, build confidence, build friendships across barriers, a place where they are supported and helped and guided by highly qualified youth workers and people who care passionately about youth."

      The full statement is reproduced below.

      There was only a brief discussion by councillors at last's night meeting. Councillor Ginger said:

      "As a council that has any feeling of duty towards this town, towards vulnerable members of society, if you read in the newspapers about the effect than no schooling has had on the younger community, just vote for this… and somehow the council will pay for it. Just vote for it. Get it moving. Get it done. End of discussion."

      With only a couple of comments by other councillors, the council voted unanimously to allocate £7,892 for the junior youth club. Councillors added a caveat that if other funders come along, the town council contribution will reduce proportionately.

      Tracey Huffer's statement

      On behalf of Ludlow and Area Youth Partnership, I would like to thank Ludlow Town Council for their continued support for Youth Provision and Activities. I would add a personal thanks Cllr Garner and Cllr Smithers who have helped hold the youth partnership together in difficult times.

      But we are not out of the woods yet with regard youth provision for our area. As has been discussed at previous meetings, youth provision is undergoing a complete transformation through Shropshire Council. Funding for our youth club is stopping imminently. This will be a complete tragedy and hugely detrimental for our young people.

      The youth club, which has been run with great success since the opening of OUR youth centre, cannot come to an end. It is much more than a 'youth club'! It's a safe place where our young people can go, share problems, build confidence, build friendships across barriers, a place where they are supported and helped and guided by highly qualified youth workers and people who care passionately about youth.

      Youth Clubs are in my mind, the foundations, the starting blocks that hold all the rest of youth provision together. Yes, we need detached work, we need activities, we need youth partnerships, schools, colleges and more. Together these support the health and wellbeing and future for our youth and young people. The very essential and most important part of this is a youth club. To repeat myself, the youth club is the foundation and provides the starting blocks.

      This is why I would urge the town council to agree funding to secure the youth club's future for the coming financial year. Richard Parkes at Shropshire Youth Association is currently responsible for running the youth club and has years of experience and knowledge around youth provision.

  • Feb 21, 2021:
    • Covid Watch: Cases in Ludlow and Bishop's Castle cause concern amid national and wider area fall

      Rates in the south west Shropshire remain low but are stubbornly refusing to fall due to an outbreak in a Bishop's Castle care home and a small rise in cases in Ludlow.

      Across England, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin there is a steep decline in positive tests for Covid-19. But locally we still have a little way to go. The accelerating pace of the vaccination programme, the huge efforts by our GPs, health professionals and volunteers, and the abundance of caution that most people are displaying will get us there.

      Let's not miss the good news. The government met its target to invite the top four cohorts for vaccination by 15 February. That was an extraordinary effort by health managers, GPs, health workers and volunteers. The rollout was later here in rural Shropshire than in other areas. That will have led to health consequences for people who have not been vaccinated as quickly as they could have been. But the future looks brighter with Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock promising all adults will be jabbed by the end of July.

      Locally, the reduction in Covid-19 infection remains behind the national trend. Of local concern is an outbreak at a Bishop's Castle care home. Shropshire Council and the Quality Care Council are currently working with the care home which has been flagged as requiring improvement on safety and management.

      Rates are up in Ludlow too.

      With the accelerating pace of vaccination rollout, the tide is turning. But it is too soon to abandon caution. I wish it were otherwise.