Category Archives: Suffolk Coastal District Council

Woodbridge Library needs Friends!

Save Woodbridge Library - and all the others in Suffolk. We love them and use them
Save Woodbridge Library – and all the others in Suffolk. We love them and use them

After huge protest from Suffolk residents of all ages and backgrounds,  kickstarted by the Lib Dem councillors and the library-loving residents of  Woodbridge, Suffolk County Council’s administration backed down on some of their more worrying  threats. Instead it has outsourced  the Library organisation into an Industrial and Provident Society for the benefit of the community.  This means that the Suffolk Library system has become a member-based organisation  of individual libraries.

Under these new proposals there are no planned closures for Libraries in the County – which is  a (at least  temporary) relief.  However, each of the Libraries will be tasked to make 5% savings on top the savings that are already embedded in the proposals.  This may mean an increase in volunteers, more fund-raising events, or changing suppliers for maintenance contracts. Funding is only guaranteed  by SCC for the first two years. Additionally, those libraries that do not have community groups are run by the IPS and have considerably less autonomy, because they have no representation on the board.
This is becoming a problem in Woodbridge.

Because Woodbridge Library is  run by the IPS , decision-making occurs without any local involvement . A notable example is the matter of the moving in of Suffolk Coastal District services to the Woodbridge Library premises without consultation or consideration of local wishes or requirements.  All moneys earned by the Library go back to the IPS, rather than being spent at the discretion of  us locals.  In the case of the Tourist Information point, neither Woodbridge Library or the residents of Woodbridge were even consulted as to the amount of rent SCDC should be paying(!).  Indeed the whole issue appears to have been discussed between officers without any input from or reference to elected local councillors or the Library itself.

In this case Suffolk Coastal district council wished to save money, and didn’t specifically have  Woodbridge interests at heart. There are rumours that they were offering as low as £2000 per annum rent for the ir occupancy of part of the library – and the Library’s consequent reduction of income-generating space.  Is it best value? If they don’t disclose we cannot know.  A Friends group would help Woodbridge to ensure it gets best value from and for its Library space!

It is now time to set up a Friends of Woodbridge Library group to allow the people of Woodbridge – and the surrounding district – a greater degree of control.

Please contact Woodbridge Library if you want to be part of this -we’d love it if you did! 

Update: it looks like the first meeting will be in the afternoon, 16 March

Tourist Disinformation at SCDC

As that eminent essayist and wit Sydney Smith once put it: “Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It was not reasoned into him, and cannot be reasoned out.”

If  the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre does indeed close  and the Conservative  Cabinet who run Suffolk Coastal District Council have just voted unanimously to do so  it will be because of ideology rather than  factual information, public opinion or common sense.  (Oh yes – and a certain amount of covert sniggering, face-pulling, pretended boredom and grandstanding among Cabinet members and their supporters) .

Of course the  SCDC Cabinet claim they are not closing the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre. Oh no, no, no. They are just shutting it down and replacing it with a ‘Tourist Information Point’ . Which they claim is the same thing with half the staff and half the services, and not recognised as a Centre  “because the criteria for a TIC are quite prescriptive (sic)” and which is planned to be sharing space in Woodbridge library with SCDC’s planning desk and – oh yes – the Citizens Advice Bureau:  all breathing down each other’s necks and earwigging on each other’s conversations.  I do hope there will be room for a book or two, but I wouldn’t count on it.

I have just sat through the Cabinet meeting where this decision was rubberstamped by a bunch of self-congratulatory apparatchniks  who were as close to the biblical deaf adder as it was possible to be, refusing to hearken to the voice of those speaking wisely and, incidentally, sensibly however wisely and sensibly they spoke.  It is clear that the democratic democratic deficit that plagues the Suffolk  Cabinet system is as strong at Suffolk Coastal District level as it is at Suffolk County. Il nʾest si mavais sours que chuis chʾoër ne voeilt, as they used to say.

So why should the  Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre be closed to be replaced by a Tourist Information Point (the difference is not just of terminology)? Hard to say.

Here’s a rundown of the more egregious arguments:

*  Portfolioholder Geoff Holdcroft majored on the cost of the rail tickets  that (according to SCDC) the TIC sells at a loss and the consequent waste to the public purse. It has not struck the good councillor that he should be apologising to all of us for managing to convert a quarter of a million pound turnover into any kind of  loss at all! To compound his poor performance, it turned out that operating  loss of £4,761  he brandished was more than halved when he admitted he’d forgot to disclose ‘customer fees.’

* ‘No-one uses Tourist Information Offices – they are on the way out‘ . Yet the annual footfall in Woodbridge is the highest its been in 5 years:  20% of which is for rail ticket sales and 80% for everything else.

* The Suffolk Coast website would be the information provider of the future. And it  had 140% increase to 11,000 hits in August.  Wow! I had 33,000 hits on this blog in September. Does this mean I am three times as successful in advertising Suffolk Coastal as Suffolk Coastal?

*   Time and time again the argument for closing shifted to suit the convenience of those who want to support the closure. It was like nailing jelly to the ceiling: the closure was because of those tickets, no it was footfall, no it was that only local people used it, no it was in the wrong place, no it was  those tickets (again), no it was public benefit.

Had Woodbridge Town Council  been consulted as to this move? No, because there is “no statutory duty to do so“.  I quote.  Woodbridge Town Councillors Ball, Binns and Grimwood  all put up good arguments against the closure to the silence and averted faces of Cllr Ray Herring and his Cabinet.  In fact the only Woodbridge Town Councillor to be  given an enthusiastic hearing (apart from Cllr Holdcroft  – the mute with the bowstring)  was Cllr Josh Sayles, who quite coincidentally supported the move wholeheartedly. He gave a setpiece pro-closure speech – all sound and fury and signifying nothing. Basically Cllr Sayle  is proud to be young and use the internet and sees no need for the TIC by the station. Quite.

OK, then, who supports the closure of the TIC  in Woodbridge? The people of Woodbridge?

No, we were told, Woodbridge people don’t want it to go – but they don’t count. They are only interested in buying rail-tickets. And how can they be tourists? they live here.  Shame on them for using the TIC and buying rail tickets! (In fact the only people that Cabinet expected to use Woodbridge TIC were people who came by cars to Woodbridge and who didn’t want to buy any rail tickets and who wanted to look around Woodbridge and nowhere else.)

So, who else?  Woodbridge Town Centre Management? Officers rather fudged the point and referred vaguely to the manager before the manager before the last who left long before the decision was mooted.  They didn’t quote the most recent Town Manager, Neil Boast:

I am sure that many of you are already aware and dismayed at the proposed Suffolk Coastal District Council decision to close the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre and have an ‘information point’ in the Library. The council believes that Aldeburgh TIC and Felixstowe TIC which will remain open, will serve Woodbridge! It seems absurd that Woodbridge will close and Aldeburgh remain open. Visitors often arrive by train and the Woodbridge TIC is ideally located at present. An information point in the Library will be a poor substitute.

So back to those pesky tickets again. Can old people use the internet? Can they learn? Can they be supported in the library? Can they even afford a computer?  How will they manage without the TIC ticketing service? Panic. Oh, its easy, said a (Conservative) councillor. You can buy a ticket on the train – I do it every day.  Great relief all round . Oh yes, of course, choruses  everyone, we can buy tickets on the train.

Yes. Of course. And the cost of a return ticket to Exeter bought on the train is £319.00. If bought in advance with the proper advice it could be just over £40.00.  Quite a difference.

This cannot matter to to Woodbridge Town Councillors Holdcroft and Sayles. But an important point when Woodbridge Town Councillor Les Binns referred to elderly constituents who may be too poor to afford a computer.  His example was an elderly constituent of his who needed to buy a rail ticket to Exeter. Maybe they can’t afford that kind of point-of-sale on-cost?

Interestingly enough Cabinet was presented with other options to this proposal. One at least was  worthy of investigation: “To seek a contract with a community group to run the TIC“.  Cllr Holdcroft was asked whether there had there been any effort whatsoever to do this? Of course not. It might, after all, been possible. And the SCDC Cabinet was not looking for a possible alternative to closing the Woodbridge TIC .

I wonder why not?

This decision is not a done deal, because it is going to be called in to scrutiny by a cross-party selection of councillors.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

For further information on the rationale for this closure see my blog entry App-Trap -Justification for closing the Woodbridge tourist information centre

App-trap – why close the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre?

What will really, really, really help tourism in Woodbridge? A Tourist Information Centre? Or  a planned app for people with mobile devices that will give them targeted information?

The latter, according to the latest mouthful of lowgrade technological codswallop used by the Suffolk Coastal District Council Cabinet to justify their unjustifiable proposed closure of the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre, while retaining the ones at Aldeburgh and Felixstowe.

Wait (I hear you say). Aldeburgh has no rail station, a very limited bus service,  a large population of second-home occupancy – oh, and 1 in 5 households in Suffolk don’t have a car… Aha – but Aldeburgh is nearer to Waveney than Woodbridge– and SCDC is in partnership with Waveney. Simples.

The easy way to save money in a hurry is to slash and burn – and now the men with grey suits (and machetes) would like us to think that the number of users of its TICs  is declining. Or anyway TICs are not an essential service and can be cut without too much of a fuss.

To put it another way, they are undertaking a service review which is “focussed on making sure our services are as efficient as possible but also that they are still relevant and needed by our customers. The reality is that the use of our tourist services are changing, with more and more people going online for their information and fewer visiting our offices.” This is according to Cllr Geoff Holdcroft, SCDC Cabinet Member for Leisure and Economic Development, who has conveniently forgotten the 8 million people in the UK who have never ever used the internet.  And the number of people who come to Woodbridge by train and who couldn’t take that train to Aldeburgh.

Talking trains, apparently Woodbridge TIC has particular difficulties in not being done away with, just because of  the time it spends selling rail tickets and providing transport information.  That’s good – it generates income?  Far from it  according to Cllr Holdcroft. He told a packed Woodbridge Town Council meeting last night that every ticket sold by the TIC in Woodbridge costs the council taxpayer £1.  (Personally I would like to see the facts behind and details on this one – given the price of rail tickets these days, the continuing local need and the heavy competition and discounting between the companies ‘selling on’ it would seem an impossible feat without a high level of council incompetence in negotiation or some very sharp means of public accounting.)

Putting that aside we are then presented with another facer. The Council’s other two TICs at Aldeburgh and Felixstowe will continue to provide a full range of services including ticketing and booking facilities, and will offer us  a telephone support and a postal service.  So tickets won’t lose money in Aldeburgh then?

Luckily not all is lost for Woodbridge  “Our commitment to encouraging tourism remains as strong as possible and our modernised service would see us still providing information from a new service based at Woodbridge library, backed up with internet-based information” . This  glib optimism  is not gaining the csupport of those who run b&bs in Woodbridge, or those who rely on the rail ticketing services for travel and for information to get about along the East Suffolk Line and beyond, or those retailers, restaurateurs, publicans and hoteliers who rely on tourists for trade or those who run tourist sites: the huge number of people who use or rely on the Woodbridge Tourist Information centre every day and who would find it hard to do so if it were replaced by a telephone or a postal service from Aldeburgh.  The local economy, in other words.

It also leaves us with a couple of  problems.

For a start,  this proposal concerning the library is a bit like telling your children that you’re not buying them  food because it’s too expensive, but they can go next door for dinner. Has anyone in SCDC actually asked the library about this plan, or have they just assumed they are willing to provide space and staff time? The library has never been owned by SCDC.  And from the 1 August it isn’t even controlled by Suffolk County Council. It is controlled by an IPS. Might the library have its own views on becoming SCDC’s cheap tourist information centre and ticket provider because SCDC is too cheeseparing to run its own? (Especially now the library knows that the ticket sales will cost them £1 a ticket). What’s in it for the library?

Secondly, the TIC looks very nice in its ornate iron-frilled white building. As gateway to Woodbridge its  presence might well be adding to the good impression of our town given to visitors as they arrive by car, bus or rail. And its certainly much easier  for new arrivals to find than the library.

Tourism remains a key part of our local economy and we are confident that potential visitors to our district will continue to get the information they need to help them choose to come here and enjoy all our district has to offer. We will continue to offer fresh innovations to attract tourists such as our joint working with Waveney’s tourism service and with local tourism businesses and partnerships to offer a better service, our Suffolk Coast website and a planned app for people with mobile devices that will give them targeted information” says Cllr Holdcroft.

So that’s all right then.

But  I’d like to know who  are the confident we? We in Woodbridge are not confident!

If you wish to contact SCDC to give your views before their Cabinet makes its final decision on November 6th, contact the portfolio-holder via this link