Decision to close council offices ‘short-sighted’ says councillor but authority says footfall has declined

Huntingdonshire District Council says most of its customers now go online to access services.

Huntingdonshire District Council says most of its customers now go online to access services. - Credit: Archant

Huntingdonshire District Council is to close three satellite offices located around the district in a bid to save thousands of pounds.

The council expects to save £90,000 in the coming financial year by closing offices in St Neots, Ramsey, and Yaxley, with all services transferring to its Pathfinder House headquarters in Huntingdon, and online.

The district council says no jobs will be lost.

The cost-saving proposal was revealed in the council’s 2019/20 budget which was signed off by the authority on February 27.

Independent councillor Tom Sanderson was critical of the decision.

He said: “I think [the decision] is short-sighted. It seems to be a counter intuitive way of working to close these offices and then say to staff ‘drive round and meet people’. It’s better to have that one-stop shop for people.”

Cllr Sanderson said the move would affect Ramsey and Yaxley in particular, because of a lack of public transport links between the two locations and Huntingdon.

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The satellite centres deal with enquiries about benefits, Council Tax, elections, and housing, and they also allow residents to make payments for services.

The facilities also offer free internet access, printing, and a direct line to the main hub in Huntingdon.

The district council defended the decision to close the centres, however, saying that most services had moved to a new online portal, in response to growing demand from users and in the face of declining footfall at the satellite offices.

Councillor Darren Tysoe, executive councillor for digital and customer said: “The evidence from our residents is clear; they want to be able to do more things online, at a time and location of their choosing. They expect council services to be as easily accessible online as their online banking and shopping, and these new arrangements enable us to do that, and represent a real step forward.

“This new service is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and works easily on a PC or laptop and ‘on the go’ using a smartphone or tablet. This is what our customers want and expect, and we are responding.”

The St Neots office is based at the Priory Centre, the Ramsey office was based at the library in Great Whyte, and the Yaxley centre was based at the library in Lansdowne Road.

The district council said the three centres will be closing at the end of August. It added support would be put in place to help residents who may not have access to online facilities.

Cllr Tysoe said: “Customers and residents have changed the way they prefer to access our services, and we must respond to this. The launch of the customer portal and enhanced online services being available offers much greater choice and convenience for most customers.

“The shift towards online services is something that is being embraced by many other organisations both in the private and public sector so it is important that the district council keeps pace with expectations. This ensures that we can not only continue to provide vital services to our customers but can provide them in a fresh, modern way to reach as many customers as possible.

“We have thought hard about how we can support residents through these changes and will work closely with local ward members in this process.”