Civic society objects to fears Chesterfield council plans to close town’s visitor information centre
and live on Freeview channel 276
Chesterfield Civic Society has submitted its views to Labour-controlled Chesterfield Borough Council’s recently-launched public ‘Budget Conversation’ survey after the local authority announced it is facing serious funding gaps on its budgets and a rising demand on services due to the cost-of-living crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, exceptionally high inflation rates, rising costs, and uncertain Government funding.
A Chesterfield Civic Society spokesperson stated: “Chesterfield and District Civic Society will be contributing to Chesterfield Borough Council’s forthcoming ‘conversation’ on its proposals for cuts and changes in service delivery – with its main objective as trying to preserve as much quality as possible in everyday civic life.
“But the society has already indicated it is against what will be the effective closure of the town’s visitor and information centre, on Rykneld Square.”
The council has revealed an estimated budget shortfall forecast of £4m in 2024/25 which is expected to increase in future financial years but it says it aims to protect essential services and continue supporting the most vulnerable despite plans to reduce its workforce.
However, the council’s Budget Strategy Implementation Plan, which was rolled out at a cabinet meeting on November 14, has recommended a series of concerning reviews of services and practices that will inevitably lead to changes for the borough’s residents.
These include how tourist information services are delivered, including the use of the Chesterfield Visitor Information Centre, in Rykneld Square, as well as how some other council community buildings are used.
The civic society has stated that it understands that Chesterfield Borough Council needs to make service cuts, as it is predicting a £4m budget shortfall as a result of the cumulative effect of reductions from central government funding, inflation, and the lingering negative impact of Covid-19.
But Chesterfield Civic Society Chairman Howard Borrell: “We will be contributing to the ‘conversation’ that the council is holding. We’ll look at proposals on the basis of whether withdrawal of a service or altering how it is delivered is beneficial or not, or has neutral impact, to what we are terming as the overall civic good of the borough.
“For example, one issue already identified could be effective closure of the visitor information centre, with a move to so-called digital delivery. We already think that this will not be beneficial to the town.
“It will have too many negative impacts on both our visitor economy and how our residents will be able to access information about what’s happening in the town and surrounding area.”
The civic society stated it would not be drawn into politics, but Mr Borrell believes ‘it is an undoubted fact that the major contributor to all this is the successive removal of central government funding to local authorities’.
He added: “Many other councils are facing similar challenges and difficult decisions, but we need to make sure that the things contributing to everyday life in the town don’t unduly suffer.”
Chesterfield Civic Society is due to fully consider the council’s proposals at a committee meeting, but in the meantime it is encouraging residents to sign an on-line petition via its Facebook website at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100079777451157 against the possible closure of the visitor information centre or to sign the petition in-person at the centre.
The Save the Chesterfield Visitor Centre group petition is also accesible via its website link https://www.change.org/p/save-chesterfield-visitor-information-centre after it also raised concerns that any closure would have a detrimental effect on businesses in the town.
Other possible cost-saving measures being considered include: The levels of funding provided to a range of external organisations and subsidies applied to the running of outdoor sports and leisure activities; How council venues are managed; The use of digital technology; The council’s events programme; And the management and maintenance of parks and open spaces.
The financial report also seeks approval to develop proposals for the possible introduction of charging for garden waste collection, and a review of how the residents’ town centre car parking scheme currently runs.
Chesterfield Borough Council Opposition Liberal Democrat Leader, Cllr Paul Holmes, has claimed the council’s current budget plans will result in £3m of cuts and savings.
He also believes the Labour-controlled council shares responsibility for its financial plight after he claims it used money from its Reserves and this pushed up this year’s budget deficit, and he claims the council has increased staffing between 2017 and 2022 which has resulted in further large outlay to meet salaries.
Councillor Amanda Serjeant, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for finance and asset management, has stated the council will have to reduce its workforce by looking at voluntary redundancies and voluntary retirement options, while avoiding the need for compulsory redundancies, and this may also mean stopping the delivery of some services and possibly reducing others.
But the council has stressed that it aims to address any budget deficit by rationalising its assets, reviewing services, transforming how it delivers services, by making better efficiency savings, and by increasing its income where possible.
Its range of saving proposals presented in its latest financial report also aim to help the council meet its legal duty of setting a balanced budget for the 2024/25 financial year when the council meets in February 2024.
Residents can take part in the ‘Budget Conversation’ survey which can be found online at www.chesterfield.gov.uk/budget-conversation and the initial part of the survey will run until Friday December 15.
Useful background information about how the council is funded and which services it has responsibility for is also available via the same website link which people are invited to consider before completing the online survey.
Following the survey deadline date of December 15, the survey’s webpage will remain open for general feedback and it will provide links to other relevant, pending budget-related consultations and engagement activities.
Paper copies of the survey will also be available at Chesterfield Town Hall, Queen’s Park Sports Centre, Staveley Healthy Living Centre, and at the offices of Brimington Parish Council.
Mr Borrell also said the civic society feels the 'Budget Conversation' survey provides very limited background detail to enable the participant to make a full and knowledgeable response.
The civic society stated that it will be consulting its membership and contributing further to the debate once all opinions have been taken into account.