The Interim Section 151 Officer presented a report detailing proposals on future use of the Town Hall and customer access to services. The Executive Committee was informed that the report was proposing that the cashiers’ desk at the Town Hall should be closed and was requesting authority for officers to hire out space in the Town Hall to external organisations.
In reviewing the cashiers’ desk, consideration had been given to data in terms of demand for the services of the cashiers during two weeks in March 2022. In this period, there had been a total of 202 customers using the cashiers’ services at the Town Hall. As requested by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Officers had subsequently reviewed the data for use of the cashiers’ services between March and June 2022. The data during this period revealed a very slight increase in demand but the trend remained comparable to the data that had been included in the report.
The Executive Committee was advised that there were a number of alternative face-to-face payment options available to customers outside the Town Hall. In total, 46 such payment options had been identified in the Borough. Should there be agreement to close the cashiers’ desk, Officers would work with customers to encourage them to use alternative payment methods. Lessons had been learned from the previous closure of the One Stop Shops in the District Centres as well as from access arrangements when the Town Hall had been closed during the Covid-19 lockdowns and this would inform arrangements moving forward. Customers would continue to be able to access self-service telephones and free wifi in the reception area at the Town Hall, which customers could use to obtain advice and make payments on their personal devices.
The option to hire out office space in the Town Hall had been identified as an opportunity for the Council. Customers would benefit from this approach as it would help to ensure that a number of key public services could be accessed by residents at the same central location. The Council would also benefit, as this would result in the authority receiving additional rental income.
During consideration of this item, Members noted that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had pre-scrutinised the report at a meeting held on 7th July 2022. After a detailed debate of the subject, the Committee had endorsed the recommendations in the report. The Executive Committee noted the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s support for the proposals and thanked the Committee for debating the subject in detail.
The Executive Committee subsequently discussed the report in detail and in doing so questioned whether there would be any redundancies arising from the closure of the cashiers’ desk. Members were advised that staff would be redeployed and there would be no redundancies. The Council was keen to retain staff at a challenging time in terms of recruitment to local government.
Reference was made to the services that would remain available for the public to access in reception at the Town Hall. Officers confirmed that residents would still be able to hand in paperwork at reception or to provide proof of ID where necessary for accessing certain Council services. During the three months prior to the closure of the cashiers’ service, officers would monitor the types of issues raised by customers visiting the cashiers to ensure that the needs of residents continued to be met moving forward.
Consideration was also given to the proposals to hire out space in the Town Hall to external organisations. Members commented that, following the Covid-19 pandemic, there remained a significant amount of office space in the Town Hall that was not being used so this proposal represented a sensible suggestion on maximising use of the space moving forward. In addition, Members commented that this would have a beneficial impact on the Council’s budget.
1) the Closure of the Cashiers Service on the 30th September 2022 be approved;
2) the alternatives for Customers to make payments and the training and guidance that will take place up to the closure date be noted;
3) the proposals to sublet parts of the Town Hall be approved; and
4) authority be delegated to the Head of Legal Democratic and Property Services and the Section 151 Officer following consultation with the Leader to negotiate terms and enter into the lease arrangements necessary to enable resolution 3 above.