Change is only worthwhile if it brings benefits to the residents of Shropshire. The prime concerns are good services, value for money and being responsive to the Public. Administrative changes are in themselves insignificant.
The financial case for unitary is already evident – £10m a year or more savings, great improvements to services, a Council Tax freeze. Equally – clarity of responsibility – the Public will have one councillor to contact with problems. Thirdly, a strong single Shropshire to counteract the forces of regional quangos and Whitehall. And, scrutiny to bear upon these quangos and other public bodies who may be tempted to do things TO people rather than FOR them. All these are real positives.
Less clear is local working with our residents. The powers of Local Committees need to be strengthened; the 3 ‘Areas’ threaten to be too big and remote; a real local voice, with local powers, must be developed. My colleagues and I are doubtful that this is being offered.
Finally, the Council needs to be a listening and responsive body – and the County’s record has been decidedly mixed in this respect. Consultation should be real. Priorities should be those of Shropshire residents, not of Whitehall.
The unitary business case, as business, is unanswerable. The greater challenge is to work with residents, to dismantle bureaucratic approaches and to win the confidence of the people of Shropshire.