Shropshire Council Chief’s proposed ~46% pay rise

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.

Thursday’s Full Council Agenda: http://shropshire.gov.uk/committee-services/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=125&MID=3576

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:

Council chief executive in line for £47K basic pay boost while council staff to get six percent

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.

Maternity Unit Saga Drags on

Residents, parents, local Conservatives, Lib Dems & Greens continue to express outrage at the ongoing Maternity Unit saga. After a prolonged closure due to staff shortages at Telford – where expectant and recovering mothers were expected to use Telford or Wrexham units instead – we are now into a new set of more temporary closures. This ran for several months last year.

Whilst these suspensions are more than just frustrating for the parents they may also be a cynical ploy to run the service down to the point where the Midwife-Led Units. Repeated suspensions aren’t good for parent’s peace of mind at critical times of pre and post-natal care. Parents rightly expect to plan ahead and this mess can’t continue. MLUs should be open 24/7.

Parents rightly expect to plan ahead and this mess can’t continue. MLUs should be open 24/7

SaTH is seeking people’s views on temporary suspensions, and whether rotating 4-week suspensions of inpatient services is a ‘Good’ solution to the staff shortages problem.

If you are on Facebook and you haven’t signed up to follow the Save Oswestry Maternity Unit page then I would urge you to sign up and support the campaign to keep the MLU open 24/7.

Marshalling at the 2nd march against closures last year

Plastic roads: Are they the answer

Are Plastic Roads the Answer to pothole and plastic problems?

Cumbria County Council thinks they are. They successfully completed trials in the use of recycled plastics to build longer lasting and stronger roads. Liberal Democrats run Cumbria council as part of a Joint administration.

Plastic waste that doesn’t normally have a recyclable use is heated to turn it back into the oil that it was made from. This oil can then be used to replace the bitumen used to bind the aggregates of an asphalt road together.

If recycled plastic can cut costs and the use of fossil fuels to create bitumen, produce stronger longer lasting roads, stop plastic going to landfill and reducing our plastic waste problems, then we really should be pushing hard to use it. In the long run, we should be taking plastic out of the equation entirely. Until then we have to recycle more of the plastic which has already been made.

Did you know?

  • Only 44% of plastic bottles are recycled;
  • Only 12% of household waste is reprocessed;
  • Roads comprise of about 90% rocks, limestone & sand for strength & grip, and 10% bitumen made from crude oil to bind it together;
  • Oil from recycled plastic pellets are used to replace the bitumen;
  • Pellets are made from household, commercial and farm waste;
  • Most commercial waste & 70% of farm waste goes to landfill or is incinerated.
  • 500m of road offsets 500,000 plastic bottles or 8000,000 carrier bags

36 years to change a light bulb

Better street lighting plan thrown out by Conservatives

Large numbers of councils across the UK, including Shropshire’s parish councils, are upgrading their lights to save money on repairs, and energy bills, reduce carbon emissions, light pollution, and crime, and to improve public safety.

Local residents often complain about poor lighting

A recent initiative by Liberal Democrats to convert Shropshire Council’s remaining 7456 street lights to brighter energy-saving LED bulbs within 3 years was thrown out by the Conservatives at a recent meeting of Shropshire Council.

At the present rate officers have said it will take:

36 years to upgrade them!

The Lib Dem move was blocked by Conservatives even though the bulbs that fit our present unconverted lamps will stop being made in June of next year.

At a total cost of £2.05m over three years or just £683k per year, the plan would have saved Shropshire Council £149,120 every year at today’s prices. Once completed, this would give a whopping 7.5% return on the investment. This saving would increase in future years as energy cost rise.

Instead, Tory-run Shropshire has spent £51m on buying shopping centres in Shrewsbury when shopping centres are in decline. Many suggest that present-day rental income will go down. The Council’s Administration also plans to spend another £18m on improving their headquarters in Shirehall.

Contrast that with Kent County Council where Bouyges ‘provided LED street lights for FREE’ clawing the cost back through maintenance contract yet will save £5.2m a year on their energy bills!! Kent County Council is run by the Conservatives.

Shropshire Council Conservatives really need a more enlightened approach to street lights. Taking so long to address a problem when the solution is easy is just plain daft.

Did you know?

  • Councils spend 30% of the annual energy bill on Street Lighting;
  • Savings of 50%-80% on energy bill can be made by switching;
  • LED lights last for 24 years – 7x longer than Sodium lights;
  • LED Light is direct making sure light only goes where needed.

Since last August I have been working with fellow councillors on West Felt on to upgrade the lights owned by them. Hopefully we can crack on with the upgrade soon and start reaping the benefits.

Read more on street light upgrades here: LED street lights must be rolled out

Growing traffic & pothole problems vs £5m cuts in roads

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.

£5m chopped out of roads in 2018/19 and 2019/20

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.
Today Shropshire council has announced a grant for the Government of £1.86m for pothole repairs. The government announced They previously announced £1.34m of that last year. The additional money is very welcome. However, it quite literally doesn’t even touch the sides compared to the scale of the cuts being made.
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.
Google Street view of the pothole in March 2009
Google Street view of the repaired pothole in March 2009
Pothole at Queens Head in March 2009 - Google photo. Previously repair of pothole coloured Green
Another Google view of the repaired pothole – coloured Green

Fast forward 9 years and look at how the pothole has grown!

Pothole at Queens Head 25th of February 2018.
Pothole at Queens Head 25th of February 2018. Green is another previous repair attempt. Orange indicates the area of the old repair that has been scrubbed away exposing the binding layer. Red is the area where the scrubbing is so severe that the sub-base is now exposed.
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.
March 13 2018: Compacted loose chippings have been used to fill in the pothole. Even for a temporary repair it isn't the best
13th of March 2018: Compacted loose chippings have been used to fill in the pothole. Even for a temporary repair, it isn’t the best as the puddles indicate. In this situation that repair will only last for a few days.

So I went to have another look a few days later and recorded the above video on the 22nd of March.

By the 22nd of March the temporary repair was already being dug out
By the 22nd of March, the temporary repair was already being dug out

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.
Pothole at Queens Head/Rednal Mile Junction
Pothole at Queens Head/Rednal Mile Junction (taken on 25th February 2018)
Sub-base aggregate (projectiles) from the pothole thrown across the road and pavement by vehicles presents a hazard and a danger to all road users and adjoining properties.
Sub-base aggregate (projectiles) from the pothole thrown across the road and pavement by vehicles presents a hazard and a danger to all road users and adjoining properties.

Pothole Formation

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.

Public Domain image from Wikipedia

Vince Cable’s new year message

Yesterday Vince Cable released his new year message:

If we want 2018 to be better than 2017, then we need a big team, pulling together and fighting for our party’s values.

Watch @VinceCable’s New Year message now – then join our team for 2018: https://libdems.org.uk/2018

Now more than ever as Brexit’s wheels fall off we need to stand together to fix an increasingly broken and divided Britain. Not so long ago Britain was at its most united during the London 2012 Olympics. We have fallen a long way since then as Britain now stands on the brink of being broken up by ‘Unionists’, weaker than it has ever been.

We now know that Brexit is a train crash in slow motion. Brexit means Wrexit.

Membership of the Liberal Democrats nationally and in Shropshire is at record levels. As we move into 2018 it is to time stand up and make noise.

Smartwater coming to West Felton Parish

West Felton Parish Council are inviting householders in the Parish to come along to the Village Hall in the upcoming month to receive their FREE ‘Smartwater’ kit enabling you to mark your valuables which, if stolen, can then be traced directly to your home.

Smartwater allows residents to mark their homes and property with water that is unique chemically coded their address. This water shows up under ultra-violet light. In the event of a theft and subsequent recovery of property by the Police, the unique code of the water means that the stolen property can be returned to the rightful owner. The Police are providing signs to go up across the parish to deter thieves.

Ultimately this will free up thin police resources away from petty theft to more important policing. If crimes of this sort is further reduced it should translate into lower insurance premiums for residents.

Signs like these will go up across the parish to deter thieves from West Felton

The initial roll-out of this system, which has the backing and support of the local policing team will be held in 2 sessions:

Between 7pm and 9pm on Monday 4th December;

and Between 10am and 1pm on Saturday 9th December

Blindspot mirror is now repaired

During the run-up to May’s election residents complained to me about the broken blindspot mirror on Station Road next to the level crossing.

Mopping up election casework had to wait until after the general election had finished as I was the Agent for Hannah Fraser in Shrewsbury in the General Election. I reported the sign to Shropshire Council on the 1st of July with fixmystreet.

This mirror had been broken for quite a while apparently and is a pain for residents coming out of the junction seeing traffic approaching from the right. This is quite a dangerous situation for vehicles emerging from the junction if their view is restricted.

I am pleased it is now fixed and the risk to residents has been reduced.

The sign was broken as far back as September 2016 on Google Street view. For something with safety implications it should have been fixed by now
The sign was broken as far back as September 2016 on Google Street view. For something with safety implications, it should have been fixed a lot sooner.
Broken blindspot mirror is a problem for residents and a traffic safety issue
Broken blindspot mirror is a problem for residents and a traffic safety issue. Reported

LED Street Lights in West Felton [updated] [updated] [updated]

Owing to having too much money in balances at West Felton Parish Council, the need for a proper financial plan was raised by another member. This appeared on the August agenda and I asked that LED street lighting was placed into the mix. Given that LED street lights produce a revenue savings year on year, in an 80% reduction in the energy bill and the ongoing maintenance bill. A saving that could be used to reduce the precept and parishes element resident’s council tax.

Regrettably, I was working away the week of the meeting and gave my apologies.

At the September meeting, I talked about the report from the Green Investment Bank that I had shared with the Clerk prior to the August meeting. This can be seen in the in my LED Street lights must be rolled out article. One of the members asked for a detailed breakdown of the costs and that the list of lights needed updating. A task I agreed to do for the next meeting.

I have sent an updated list of the Street Lights owned by the parish as a Fusion Table and Map for the Clerk to add to the Parish Council’s website, along with a break down of the costs ahead of tomorrow’s October meeting.

I have also reported to the clerk that a number of lights on The Avenue aren’t working.


UPDATE: Unfortunately, members hadn’t seen it prior to the meeting so it was agreed to discuss the figures at the next meeting. (The figures were distributed on November 5th.) I mentioned during the debate about the lights out on the avenue and tried to persuade members to replace all 39 lights with LEDs as this would be more cost-effective just than replacing the broken lights on The Avenue. Members were torn with some only wanting to address the broken lights. The clerk was asked to ask Highline to survey the lights.

UPDATE 2: At the November Meeting on the 14th we again discussed the lights at length. I again raised the lights that were still out on the Avenue and pointed out that another light was also down at The Wheatlands junction. Highline came back with their fees for upgrading the lights to LEDs. Figures for individual lights were comparable with the numbers I had previously supplied. Indeed if all 39 were upgraded it would have been less than my estimate. Highline have been instructed to make the repairs.

UPDATE 3: As we head to the December meeting next week the broken lights on the Avenue still are out of action 19 weeks or 2 months after I first reported them! I had forgotten how frustratingly slow Council decision making and processes can be. Considering that we are at the darkest part of the year if these lights were actually needed when they were first installed then they need sorting quickly. As for the rest of the lights, I remain of the view that the savings outway any reason for further delay. We have already squandered a big chunk of the energy bill savings we could have started to build up this winter.

AirBand & Shropshire Council agree WiFi broadband roll-out deal

Yesterday Shropshire Council announced that they had agreed to a £11.2 million contract with AirBand, a Worcester Broadband company, to help supply Broadband to hard to reach Rural Places.

Given the shockingly slow rollout of Superfast Broadband to rural areas by BT Openreach this is welcome news. Some places are already receiving Ultrafast Broadband and we are still rocking and rolling with basic Broadband or Fibre Broadband Connections. Diversification of the technology and the supply is a welcome addition in terms of consumer choice. Residents can now register their interest in the system here: AirBand Register your interest

As with the previous introduction of new broadband technologies and campaigns that I have been involved in, like the campaign we led in Bridgnorth that ultimately brought broadband to Bridgnorth in 2002, the more people who pre-register their interest in the service then the quicker the service is rolled out in an area.

Currently the only alternative method of getting Broadband into hard to reach areas is to use Satelite Broadband from providers like Tooway. We used Tooway at work at our offices in Upton Magna for a few years and found the service to be good on the whole. Prior to that Upton Magna received broader internet through a Microwave link to the Wrekin. This was later superceded by ISDN. We fumbled along with multiple ISDN lines for a while.

The main downside of Satelite Broadband was the lag as the data/webpage request had to travel via satellite to Italy and back. This produces a perceptible lag which is no good to real-time applications like online gaming. However, for most people and us the delay wasn’t noticeable when browsing or transferring files. The data bandwidth was good so the data travelling in big chunks. So pages loaded instantly, if after a tiny delay. Having said all of that, once Superfast Broadband came to Upton Magna late in 2015 we dropped it straight away. We now get 80mbps per line there.

As I was typing this up I heard on Radio 5 about the research that the BBC had been undertaking to open up TV White Space and Microsofts plans to use this technology in Africa. This uses spare analogue UHF TV signal from the digital TV switchover. This has huge advantages over Microwave technology that Upton Amgna used to get in that it doesn’t need a direct line of sight, is unaffected by adverse weather, obstacles, trees or hills. Carlson Wireless has a very good website explaining the UHF technology.

Hopefully, the AirBand technology will be using the same TV White Space technology to broadcast the signal into the very hardest to reach crevices in the county. If that is the case then this is very welcome news indeed.