Saving money and the Tourist Information Centre Hunstanton
By Political commentator Richard Bird, Former Independent Councillor at Town, Borough and County
On 12th June Town and Around published an article concerning the TIC from Hunstanton Town Council, and this has initiated a raft of comments and protests from the general public.
The responsibility to provide the TIC facility rests with the Borough Council of Kings Lynn, not Hunstanton Town Council. The Boro’ used to have a TIC at the front of the Princess Theatre but closed it at about the same time as they decided that they didn’t want to continue with the direct running of same at a yearly cost to the ratepayers of about £350,000.
Fortunately for us residents, the Princess Theatre is now run successfully by a local independent impresario at no cost to the local ratepayers. It should be said that KL&WNBC still own the freehold.
The Hunstanton Town Council (HTC) was approached to take on the role of running the TIC, and the staff were transferred (TUPE) to the Town Council. The agreement was made and what is called an (S.L.A.) service level agreement was initiated; the SLA was never enough to cover the staffing costs plus all other overheads, but the original idea was for the staff to make sales from stocks purchased by HTC in order to cover the shortfall. To the best of my knowledge this was never achieved for various reasons, and the domestic ratepayers of Hunstanton have been subsidising the TIC for years. Of course, many attempts have been made to balance the books by reducing the hours of operation, staffing levels and stock valuation levels but all to no avail. Whenever a proposal to initiate a business proposal was put some councillors would say “it’s too risky to use ratepayers monies”, while others would claim the enterprise to be in competition with the private sector. When applying for franchises, HTC was told that the town was too ‘down-market’ for many of these products or services.
It was obvious to most that the KL&WNBC would be looking to make savings at this pandemic time, after all, the so-called ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of Hunstanton would be losing huge revenues based on its freehold assets not giving a financial return. The estimated income to the KL&WNBC of about £2,000.000 p/a has taken a real beating over this period, bearing in mind that the Boro’, cannot furlough staff and has been obliged to continue paying full pay to the entire staff not made redundant. The £43,000 SLA was already causing embarrassment to both HTC and KL&WNBC with both parties seeking to find a way out of the financial embarrassment. Hunstanton residents already pay the most in the whole Borough per household (sometimes Downham Market pays more) of all 101 Towns and parishes within it.
What will be happening in the short and medium term? Firstly, the staff, who have done a terrific job over the years, have resigned or been made redundant. That’s already happened. The next steps, like so much in these troubled times, are still not completely clear, what is being hoped for is that the new library, yet to be built, on the bus station site, will hold the TIC office alongside many other new facilities. With the Coal Shed Gallery, another Borough Council ‘white elephant project’, acting in the interim as an unmanned TIC fill in. I wish all involved with that project, good luck.
On closing, I would draw your attention to another badly troubled area, that of South Bedfordshire Unitary Council. Because of their investment of buying back Luton Airport which of course is virtually closed, they stand to lose £49,000.000 this year, that makes our problems look really tame.