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

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Change a Suffolk Child’s Life Chances

Suffolk Adoption Agency is urgently appealing for more people to  consider adoption, and provide a permanent family for Suffolk’s looked-after children.

At the moment there are 27 children in Suffolk who need  to be adopted if they are going to have the same chances in life as their peers. 

Why is this?

Simply, we mean well by ‘care’ , we do our best, but right across the UK ‘looked-after’ children remain the most vulnerable  in society.  And although they need the most support, nationally the outcome for such children is dreadful.  35% of children in residential care leave at 16 and 56% before they turn 18. Almost half of those leaving care at 16 are not in education, employment or training when they reach 19. Nationally, children  in care are more likely to end up with worse exam results, to have poor mental and physical health, to be convicted of crimes, and unemployed or out of education.

All for the want of a family.

And this is simply because a ‘corporate parent’ is not and cannot be a parent.  An organisation – with the best will in the world – cannot replace a domestic bond.  It cannot love, it cannot nag, it cannot hope or fear or turn up proudly for graduations or weddings, or or remember birthdays and Christmas as a parent does.  And a parent is not just for Christmas – a parent is for life – for practical and emotional support in both directions through good times and bad. Who does a young person who has been a child in care fall back on?

For some ‘looked after’ children,  return to their birth family is simply not an option.

In Suffolk, 27 children are waiting to be adopted. The Suffolk Adoption Agency is particularly looking for families for children aged  over 3, for sibling groups and for children with disabilities.

National Adoption Week is 5-9th November. If you think you could change a child’s life changes, call 0800 389 9417, or go to the Suffolk Adoption Agency website 

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Woodbridge County Councillor’s Surgery tomorrow!

Just a reminder that my Surgery is tomorrow in Woodbridge Library, 10am to noon, as ever.

I’ve had a lot of emails and phone-calls about many of the issues raised in our latest Focus (click here). Clearly feelings run high – and particularly on such matters as people speeding through the town, the closure of the Tourist Information Centre and our hooting/non hooting trains. If you still have to give me your views, or indeed want to follow them up face to face, this is a very good opportunity.

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Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge