Like many who saw the headline in the Shropshire Star last Thursday, I was shocked and appalled. Shocked by the scale of the percentage rise of nearly 46% and appalled by the amount in cash terms of £47,000.
In cash terms, the £47,000 pay rise is vastly bigger than the £24,200 average annual pay in Shropshire. In fact, the rise is nearly double the average wage. If the recommended rise is accepted the Chief Executive will be paid 6x the average pay in Shropshire.
By contrast, the lowest paid employees at Shropshire Council are paid £16,449 – well under the average for Shropshire. The Chief Executive would be paid over 9x the scale of the lowest. Most employees at Shropshire Hall will be getting a 6% rise.
In percentage terms, when many hard-working people are still only getting a 1 or 2% pay rises, if they are lucky, this rise won’t go down well. In PR terms this rise, if approved, will send out all of the wrong messages. It will be a slap in the face for ordinary hard-working people, even if the Chief Executive has earned it.
Andy Boddington has done some more to break this down and gives some more background on how Shropshire Council got into this mess on his blog here:
What this all says about the running of Shropshire Council is up for debate. It doesn’t say much about the past or current corporate governance of the Conservative Administration that they are in this mess. Current priorities like buying Shrewsbury shopping centres or refurbishing Shirehall, all fail to address the black hole in the budget. Symptomatic of broken Shirehall and if it isn’t careful soon to be broke Shirehall.
The state of the roads and the growing pothole problem has once again been featured by the national and local media. For decades Shropshire has had a reputation for poor roads, often readily apparent to road users as they crossed the county border. For Shropshire, they have a colossal road network with some 3,138 miles of road, which has always proven a challenge to maintain. Nearly 3x the bigger the national average and more than double the average for the West Midlands.
This chart and the ones that follow are based on Government OpenData
One big problem Shropshire Council has is that it doesn’t know the age of its roads!
Every road has a life expectancy – roughly 20-40 years depending on traffic levels. This can be extended by a further 20 years by overlaying or planing off and relaying the top layers. Surface dressing or chipping can extend the life expectancy by 5 years at a time. Eventually, every road needs to be dug up and relayed to reset the clock back to zero. They would need to undertake a massive coring program to have a better idea. So they are stuck in a costly and inefficient cycle of temporary resurfacing. In the short-term re-chipping costs about 1/6th of planing. All of these lifespan numbers vary with traffic volume, axle weights, construction and material quality.
Shropshire hasn’t been great at keeping on top of its road maintenance for years. This shows up most when you compare the condition of the roads across networks with planned work. The % of roads that should have been flagged for maintenance for A roads in Shropshire is about average at 4%. The average in England is 3%. However, for B and C roads is 11% and nearly double the average in England. This shows where Shropshire is spending its maintenance money or more significantly where it is not.
The trend for England is downwards but the Trend for Shropshire on B and C roads in particularly is getting worse. Bad when you consider where Shropshire was already worse than England average.
The Conservatives on Shropshire Council have a £59m black hole in their budget. One way they decided to fix this was by cutting the roads budget by £5m in 2018/19 and another £5m in 2019/20. Potty, given the state of the roads. All road users in Shropshire can see the steady decline in the condition of our roads.
As traffic volumes increase and road maintenance budget reduces, the roads will decay more quickly and the pothole problem will accelerate. This situation is unsustainable. Delays in fixing our roads will only mean higher maintenance costs in the long run. This has been happening for decades because they don’t know how old our roads are but this situation will only get dramatically worse. This will potentially lead to higher insurance claims and more accidents where the condition of the road is a factor.
The Government and Shropshire Council needs to take a proper grip of the situation or the bills for repairs will grow exponentially. Compared to Other areas Shropshire like all other central funding has always had a bad deal.
Queens Head Pothole is dangerous
Take the pothole at Queens Head/Rednal Mile junction as an example:
In March 2009 the pothole was roughly 1/3 of the size it is now.
Fast forward 9 years and look at how the pothole has grown!
Substandard maintenance, poor materials, excessive wear from the traffic heading to ABP are all a factor in its growth. This sort of damage doesn’t happen overnight. The damage is so severe that the underlying sub-base is exposed. The sub-base is loose aggregate which can be seen scattered across the road. This presents a danger to all road users and an increased skidding risk. Tear wear increases the damage to the road, as more loose material is dug out, as the wheels spin due to lower traction.
I reported the pothole as dangerous to Shirehall. By the 13th of March, the pothole had been temporarily filled in with compacted loose chippings.
So I went to have another look a few days later and recorded the above video on the 22nd of March.
Traffic volumes 2000-2016
(2017 data gets added in May/June 2018)
Cars and particularly Vans are trending upwards at an accelerating rate, whilst HGVs are ticking down.
Excluding the cars shows the upward trend in LGV or Vans. HGVs are trending down but there is a small uptick in 2015-16.
Drilling into the HGVs a bit further… HGV with bigger axel numbers are increasing…
Excluding the 2 axle and 3/4 axle articulated lorries we can see that the trend is clearly up for HGVs with the workload of the former now done by Vans
Overall this shows is the impact of online shopping on journeys and supports what we all know – that retail shops are under severe pressure and that Royal mail delivers many more parcels and fewer letters as more shopping is done online.
What that means for Whittington and beyond is worse roads for years to come unless something dramatic happens. Unlikely without a change at local and national level. More expenditure that is out of control and more costly insurance claims.
Pothole insurance claims:
2013/14 188 pothole claims. 25 claims against Highways insurance amounted to £31,000.
2015/16 There were 46 injuries caused by potholes and they paid out £20,721.50 on 6 of those claims.
2016/2017 182 Pothole claims, 11 of which they accepted liability and paid out over £20,000.
General wear and tear on roads from increased axle weight, increased traffic volumes, combined with adverse weather conditions – be that too hot or too cold leading to binding tar drying out with age, can all lead to tiny fissures forming in a road surface.
Water penetrated into the surface and freezes. This pushes up the road surface in cold weather. Once this thaws the void below collapse the road when traffic drives across the voids and fissures. Over time the road crumbles or collapses into the voids producing the pothole – initially quite small. Successively this process continues and the hole progressively gets bigger. Once a weakness has formed as standing water in it will explode outwards under compression by a tyre further accelerating the growth of the hole through explosive percussion. Once the pothole is formed the surface with be loose and present a skidding risk as well as a hazard for all road users.
Last week Powys Council announced that they will be replacing their existing street lights with LED Street Lights. They will be spending £1.5 million to replace over 5,000 street lights. Staffordshire council is doing the same and Herefordshire completed their switch to LED last year. Yet sleepy Conservative-led Shropshire Council are… errmm… doing nothing!
Currently, Shropshire Council is trialling the use of LED street lights. (There is one of these LED Lights on Station Road in Whittington.) However, they are making a costly mistake by not rolling out the more economically efficient LED lights. At present, Shropshire Council considers that the capital cost of swapping their lights is too high and are hoping that the cost of the lights comes down.
“…a significant number of columns are presently posing an unacceptable risk and are in urgent need of replacement” Shropshire Council, Challenge Fund Bid 2015
In my view, this is a very poor decision. When you consider that 88% of the lights are made of decaying concrete or that 44% are over 25 years old and 14% are over 50!! Shropshire Council said in 2015 that data to May 2014 showed that a significant proportion of the 4,060 light tested presented an “unacceptable risk and are in urgent need of replacement.” They identified that 252 needed immediate replacement and an additional that 2,347 needed replacement by 2017/18. So 65% of those tested needed replacing presenting an “unacceptable risk and are in urgent need of replacement.”
They could use some of their £175 million cash reserves or they could borrow the capital cost from the Government’s Green Investment Bank, given that interest rates are still at historically low levels. Either way, replacement is increasingly inevitable anyway. It is economic madness to do nothing when the long-term on-going savings are huge and the obvious benefits to public safety are widely accepted.
In 2014 The Government invited all Highways Authorities in England, including Shropshire Council, to submit bids for a slice of the £275 million Challenge Fund. 28 authorities were successful in meeting the fund’s criteria and putting forward the strongest bids. Shropshire’s bid in 2015 was unsuccessful. Arguably because their bid lacked ambition. They only wanted to replace lights over 35 years old. Other similar bids were bidding to modernise the whole network. This failure left Shropshire with its old and inefficient street lighting. Fast forward 2 years and many many authorities are putting Shropshire to shame, investing to save considerable money on their energy bills.
Safer, Brighter, Cleaner and Cheaper
Just like domestic LED lights used in your home, there is an initial capital cost to replace the lights. However, the ongoing savings thanks to their longer life expectancy and replacement costs, and the direct savings in terms of power consumption. This means that the year on year savings quickly outway the initial capital cost. Using LED Streetlights also has the upside of improved lighting, reducing crime and improving safety for both pedestrians and road users alike. Due to the more directional lighting, they also reduce light pollution in the night sky and aren’t as much a nuisance to residential property. They also contribute to reduced Carbon Dioxide emissions, don’t use dangerous heavy metals or emit UV radiation.
Street lights in Shropshire use enough power to light every house in Whittington Parish
According to Shropshire Council, it takes 7.7 million kilowatt-hours of power to run their 18,500 street lights, illuminated signs and traffic signals every year – enough to power 2,600, or every home in Whittington Parish, for a year! Annually they spend £800,000 on repairing and renewing Street Lighting. The electricity consumed by an ‘average’ light costs between £25 and £65 a year. Both the capital replacement and maintenance cost and the energy costs could be radically cut by switching.
According to Shropshire’s challenge Fund bid, the annual energy saving would be about £300,000 a year. That is £300,000 that can be reinvested in services, reinvested in the Street Light network or to reduce council tax levels. Over the lifetime of the new lights (24 years) that saving would be about £7.2 million of energy savings. With rising energy prices that saving figure has to be considered a conservative estimate. Given that many of the new light would last beyond that lifetime, the savings could be considerably more. At a time when money is tight, these are precious savings that need to be made
Given the environmental benefits, the “unacceptable risk” of column failure and the significant ongoing savings, doing nothing is not acceptable.
Reading this article in the Advertiser I was staggered on two levels.
First, that Shropshire Council is thinking of spending £50k on an automated bollard when that money may be better spent elsewhere to improve the appearance and overall shopping experience in Oswestry or to improve parking, traffic circulation and shopper footfall.
Secondly, and more worryingly that the Deputy Leader and the man in charge of Business and the Economy is at odds with the Council Officers he is err supposed to be leading. He seems to be in favour of opening up Cross Street to traffic – currently closed between 10 am and 4 pm Monday to Saturday. Opening up the road won’t ease congestion or improve pedestrian safety.
Opening up the road won’t ease congestion or improve pedestrian safety. Opening up the road won’t improve trade for retailers on Cross Steet. Opening up the street to traffic may allow ‘drive-by’ shopping but that isn’t really the answer. Increasing footfall will do that. To get more footfall you have to improve a host of things, not least making it a more desirable place to shop and a destination in its own right or when walking through from A to B if it isn’t.
Whether you agree with opening up Cross Street or not what should be a priority, especially when finances are tight, is spending on things that increase leverage and revenue rather than one-off items of spending. I would argue an injection of £50k would be better spent elsewhere. If you spend it on something that makes shopping a better experience it will produce a more lasting dividend for years to come.
Back in 2002, during my time as a Town, District and County Councillor for Bridgnorth, I helped with officers and other members, to bring the £300k Bridgnorth Better Welcome Project (Inc £110k of EU money) to fruition in 2003. This investment revitalised low town, the benefits of which, are still seen today.
Getting the economy moving in the right direction and supporting business growth has to have a much higher priority than it currently has. With Business rates coming back to Shirehall this will be a hugely important stream of funding to Shropshire Council. Shropshire Council has failed to promote investment, failed o attract jobs to the area, failed to foster an entrepreneurial environment for the area and the county. This short-sighted view means Shropshire will suffer due to his failure for years to come… More on that another time.
So the question that is the subject of this post… is this another example of confused Leadership or confused thinking? You decided, but it looks like both to me.
Bollards! Shropshire Council left & right hand confused esp 4 Dep Leader (Def of Leadership – Answers on postcard)https://t.co/0WATQK8L1G
Today Shropshire Council has released lists of Candidates Nominated for the Unitary Election on May the 2nd. I can confirm that my nomination papers were accepted and my nomination now appears on the list for Bridgnorth West & Tasley Division. I am once again standing for the LibDems along with my dear friend and former Mayor of Bridgnorth, Helen Howell. In a few days once the window for people to withdraw from the election closes, the field will be set and the election will begin in earnest.
7 sitting Councillors are unopposed, so they will be returned without an election. No great for democracy but I am sure they will be chuffed to bits.
Why am I standing? Well, it is 8 years since I lost my County Council seat. In that time, all the fundamental issues that Bridgnorth faced then have remained in place, un-addressed by Bridgnorth’s Unitary Councillors – a rapidly ageing population in part due to a lack of suitable affordable housing and local jobs. Our younger people are leaving Bridgnorth for further education or work, many not returning. This is unsustainable and means that those older people that remain have to shoulder more and more of the council tax burden.
Today is Civic Sunday & I will be participating in the parade & service at St Mary’s church to usher in the New Mayor, Val Gill, into office. On Thursday we had the Annual Council meeting in the town hall where she officially took office for the next municipal year. Today we will parade from the Town Hall in the high street, lead by a band, to the Civic Service at St Mary’s church.
This will be my last Civic Sunday & my last act as a councillor. Tomorrow I will retire. I have been proud to have represented the public of Morfe ward since I was first elected in 1999. During this time I have used my expertise as a surveyor on planning matters to ensure our beautiful town is enhanced by quality applications & our rich heritage protected. I have campaigned for road safety improvements & speed limit reductions in Quatford & The Hermitage. Worked to establish community groups. Campaigned for fairer funding for schools. Improvements on the riverside & in Low Town. Worked to see the cemetery improved & extended – including undertaking a survey of the site for the council. I have campaigned for the introduction of technology to councils to make them more efficient. Amongst many other things for individual people & businesses in my ward.