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