Questions from Councillors
To receive members’ questions under procedure rule no.11. The procedure rule provides that any member may ask the Chairman of a board or group any question on any matter in relation to which the Council has powers or duties which affect the District, provided that three clear days’ notice in writing has been given to the Head of Legal and Commercial Services.
A question was received from Councillor D Bigby addressed to Councillor T Gillard as follows:-
“Ashby Tourist Information Centre (TIC) has been closed during the Covid restrictions and staff deployed to other duties to assist with Covid recovery. I have been told by officers and the portfolio holder that:
· It will NOT be re-opened this year
· NWLDC is currently reviewing the future of Ashby TIC and a report to Cabinet is being prepared
· it will not be re-opened unless the report recommends this.
The walk-in TIC at Ashby Library has made, and can continue to make, a valuable contribution to the local economy through providing the following important local services,
· promoting Ashby as a developing tourist destination
· furnishing visitors to Ashby with up-to-date information on local facilities, events and tourist attractions across the District
· providing a warm and friendly welcome to visitors
· providing local businesses and community groups with a means of publicising events and selling tickets to the public and visitors
· promoting the National Forest.
Does the portfolio holder agree with me that the permanent closure of Ashby TIC would represent a loss of the important local services listed above, would be highly detrimental to the local economy and replacement by an improved website would not constitute an adequate substitute?”
Councillor T Gillard replied as follows:-
“The council should be proud of the way that it responded to the Covid 19 Pandemic. We have had to make difficult decisions to cease or change the way we offered our services and redeploy staff to critical areas to make sure we continued to deliver priority services to the public, such as the Community Hub, waste services and distributing government grants to businesses. The TIC was closed and, as Cllr Bigby says, staff were redeployed. They were providing vital support to businesses to help them reopen and begin to grow again.
Cabinet continues to recognise the importance of the Visitor Economy to our district and after a horrendous 2020 and a bumpy 2021 we hope our tourism businesses will bounce back in 2022. We are working closely with businesses in the sector to help them “build back better”.
What we must ensure is that our investment remains relevant, delivering both value for money and positive impacts on the performance of the district as a tourist destination. Officers have been tasked with evaluating the impact of our cultural services, including through engagement with sector stakeholders. The outcome of the Service Review exercise will be reported later this year.
In summary, I thank Cllr Bigby for his question but would suggests that he waits until the Service Review has concluded and we have an opportunity to debate the findings”
Councillor Bigby was invited to ask a supplementary question. Councillor Bigby replied
“I thank Councillor Gillard for his reply to my question. I note that he has given us no reassurances whatsoever on the future of Ashby Tourist Information Centre and has not answered my question.
In a letter of 23 July he stated to me that, and I quote;
“Of course, if the TIC were able to become self-supporting this would likely have a major influence on the recommendations made to Cabinet. If you have any ideas how this might be achieved I would be excited to hear them.”
In my reply of the same date, I said, “if you should wish to send me the detailed accounts for the Ashby TIC, I would be happy to peruse them and consider whether I can make any suggestions for increasing its income. I would be particularly interested in comparing footfall, costs and income before and after the drastic reduction in opening hours that was implemented a couple of years ago when the Library changed its hours and entry systems.”
Over six weeks have now elapsed and I have received no response to my request, so my supplementary question is;
Will the Portfolio Holder furnish Ashby members with a set of detailed accounts for the Ashby TIC covering the last 4 years, in order to allow us to assess its costs and income and provide positive suggestions for improving it viability before the Cultural Services Review is produced?”
Councillor Gillard advised that he did not have the information to hand and apologised for any delay in responding, but he reiterated that, as the matter was currently being looked at as part of a service review which would find its way to Scrutiny and Cabinet, comments and observations could be made on the recommendations as part of this process.