Our challenges are many, and urgent...
The cuts in services by Herefordshire Council - grass cutting, libraries, public loos, floral displays, care of the elderly, street cleaning and more - are biting deep into the well-being our community.
Unplanned building development is putting unprecedented pressure on our town. Whatever happens, Ledbury will grow by thousands of people over the next few years, placing increasing stress on local services. Are we ready for that? Already the town’s primary school is oversubscribed, and many local children have to travel to outlying village schools which is inconvenient and provokes resentment.
The UBL Heinekin closure – with the loss of over 100 local jobs - is a reminder that Ledbury simply must get to work and attract business investment. The town’s economy is massively unbalanced with a very unhealthy outflow of daily commuters and pitifully few good, well-paid, secure positions on offer within the town itself.
For a town of its size, we are not well-endowed with leisure and creative facilities – performance spaces, diverse sports facilities, rehearsal and recording rooms, meeting places, year round festivals and community events. Why else should our lovely town have attracted the hurtful soubriquet, Deadbury? Yes there is great work and tremendous energy put in from diverse voluntary efforts, but Ledbury as a whole lacks infrastructure and investment on a long-term planned basis.
Other towns have been hoovering up Lottery funding, grants and business sector sponsorship. Not so Ledbury… Where has been the leadership, the vision, the sheer brass neck to make shift happen?
We need, collectively to wake up – not just to the threats, but to the abundant opportunities which surround us. The time is now.
Sometimes it’s hard to be constructive, to think of ways that the current Ledbury Town Council ‘administration’ could adapt and evolve in order to rise to the challenges it faces.
A good start might be to convene an open honest discussion among town councillors about the future, what’s working and what isn’t - an Awayday or Retreat. This shouldn’t be a formal council meeting but run on more business-like lines with an independent facilitator. Such a gathering might at least help to create some esprit de corps, a coherent vision on the things upon which we are agreed.
Differences of opinion and competing perspectives are always helpful. The trouble is with places like Ledbury Town Council, such conversations are stilted affairs, taking place in the adversarial bear pit of Council meetings under the glare of the press. This has two consequences. Free debate is stifled, particularly among the quieter and more thoughtful members, and is wont to provoke intemperate behaviour from their more unbridled colleagues. What emerges is a distorted version of reality. The Town Council does not speak for the town. Come to that, the Town Council does not really speak for the Town Council. The messages that emerge are from the loudest and most strident voices, those picked up by the press because they make a good quote or a scandalous headline.
Fit for Purpose
The other huge impediment to progress is the Town Council’s sheer lack of vision and dynamism. It’s not that all its members are without talent and imagination, far from it. The shame is that so many of its precious human resources are wasted, much less exploited. As an organisation, the Town Council in its current modus operandi, is singularly unfit for purpose in terms of its being able to deliver positively, generously and in timely fashion on Ledbury’s current challenges and opportunities. (The Neighbourhood Plan is a case in point: unhurried to the point of irresponsibility, the finished document is at least a year away.)
But never mind the next fifteen or five years, what for instance are the Town Council’s priorities for the next twelve months? Where is it going to be focusing its energies? What outcomes is it seeking by the May 2015 election? Who is going to do what? Wouldn’t these be good starting points for the forthcoming budget-setting exercise and a necessary precursor to the democratic process?
Any successful organisation has a corporate plan at least. Ledbury Town Council does not – and the results are painfully obvious. There is drift, incoherence, frustration and an absence of concerted effort on the things that really matter.
Ledbury needs action. Ledbury Town Council needs a strategy. Urgently.