What will really, really, really help tourism in Woodbridge? A Tourist Information Centre? Or a planned app for people with mobile devices that will give them targeted information?
The latter, according to the latest mouthful of lowgrade technological codswallop used by the Suffolk Coastal District Council Cabinet to justify their unjustifiable proposed closure of the Woodbridge Tourist Information Centre, while retaining the ones at Aldeburgh and Felixstowe.
Wait (I hear you say). Aldeburgh has no rail station, a very limited bus service, a large population of second-home occupancy – oh, and 1 in 5 households in Suffolk don’t have a car… Aha – but Aldeburgh is nearer to Waveney than Woodbridge– and SCDC is in partnership with Waveney. Simples.
The easy way to save money in a hurry is to slash and burn – and now the men with grey suits (and machetes) would like us to think that the number of users of its TICs is declining. Or anyway TICs are not an essential service and can be cut without too much of a fuss.
To put it another way, they are undertaking a service review which is “focussed on making sure our services are as efficient as possible but also that they are still relevant and needed by our customers. The reality is that the use of our tourist services are changing, with more and more people going online for their information and fewer visiting our offices.” This is according to Cllr Geoff Holdcroft, SCDC Cabinet Member for Leisure and Economic Development, who has conveniently forgotten the 8 million people in the UK who have never ever used the internet. And the number of people who come to Woodbridge by train and who couldn’t take that train to Aldeburgh.
Talking trains, apparently Woodbridge TIC has particular difficulties in not being done away with, just because of the time it spends selling rail tickets and providing transport information. That’s good – it generates income? Far from it according to Cllr Holdcroft. He told a packed Woodbridge Town Council meeting last night that every ticket sold by the TIC in Woodbridge costs the council taxpayer £1. (Personally I would like to see the facts behind and details on this one – given the price of rail tickets these days, the continuing local need and the heavy competition and discounting between the companies ‘selling on’ it would seem an impossible feat without a high level of council incompetence in negotiation or some very sharp means of public accounting.)
Putting that aside we are then presented with another facer. The Council’s other two TICs at Aldeburgh and Felixstowe will continue to provide a full range of services including ticketing and booking facilities, and will offer us a telephone support and a postal service. So tickets won’t lose money in Aldeburgh then?
Luckily not all is lost for Woodbridge “Our commitment to encouraging tourism remains as strong as possible and our modernised service would see us still providing information from a new service based at Woodbridge library, backed up with internet-based information” . This glib optimism is not gaining the csupport of those who run b&bs in Woodbridge, or those who rely on the rail ticketing services for travel and for information to get about along the East Suffolk Line and beyond, or those retailers, restaurateurs, publicans and hoteliers who rely on tourists for trade or those who run tourist sites: the huge number of people who use or rely on the Woodbridge Tourist Information centre every day and who would find it hard to do so if it were replaced by a telephone or a postal service from Aldeburgh. The local economy, in other words.
It also leaves us with a couple of problems.
For a start, this proposal concerning the library is a bit like telling your children that you’re not buying them food because it’s too expensive, but they can go next door for dinner. Has anyone in SCDC actually asked the library about this plan, or have they just assumed they are willing to provide space and staff time? The library has never been owned by SCDC. And from the 1 August it isn’t even controlled by Suffolk County Council. It is controlled by an IPS. Might the library have its own views on becoming SCDC’s cheap tourist information centre and ticket provider because SCDC is too cheeseparing to run its own? (Especially now the library knows that the ticket sales will cost them £1 a ticket). What’s in it for the library?
Secondly, the TIC looks very nice in its ornate iron-frilled white building. As gateway to Woodbridge its presence might well be adding to the good impression of our town given to visitors as they arrive by car, bus or rail. And its certainly much easier for new arrivals to find than the library.
“Tourism remains a key part of our local economy and we are confident that potential visitors to our district will continue to get the information they need to help them choose to come here and enjoy all our district has to offer. We will continue to offer fresh innovations to attract tourists such as our joint working with Waveney’s tourism service and with local tourism businesses and partnerships to offer a better service, our Suffolk Coast website and a planned app for people with mobile devices that will give them targeted information” says Cllr Holdcroft.
So that’s all right then.
But I’d like to know who are the confident we? We in Woodbridge are not confident!
If you wish to contact SCDC to give your views before their Cabinet makes its final decision on November 6th, contact the portfolio-holder via this link