Tourist centre to shut as Ipswich council has to close £10m black hole
Ipswich’s Tourist Information Centre in St Stephen’s Church is unlikely to reopen at the end of the coronavirus crisis as the borough council struggles to fill a £10m black hole that the pandemic has opened up in its finances.
And plans to repave and improve Arras Square also face a fresh hurdle as the council admitted it could only afford half its share of the bill.
Borough officials are preparing an emergency budget to be debated by the council’s cabinet next week that will also see the closure of the Waterfront Profiles Gym in Athena Hall, shortened hours at the customer service centre in the town hall, and reduced hours of operation at the Crown Car Park.
Council leader David Ellesmere said the extra costs of dealing with the crisis, combined with a huge reduction in income from services including car parks, leisure centres, and swimming pools meant that the council was looking at a £10m shortfall that would have to be met over the next four years.
The government had so far given it an extra £1.4m, but it had not confirmed what other support would be coming. He said: “We are having to work on an emergency budget without knowing what help is coming from the government. Robert Jenrick (local government secretary) has said we will be reimbursed for our extra expenditure which would be £2.4m, but we have had no confirmation yet.
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“If government support is not there we would have to come up with another emergency budget in the autumn and then there could be more cuts to follow.”
The council is planning to cut the amount it is allocating to “public realm” improvements – including repaving Arras Square – and is hoping that money will be made up from the government’s new Towns’ Fund which was announced at the end of last year.
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Terry Hunt, chair of the Ipswich Town Deal board which will be bidding for this money said it was due to go to public consultation soon to find out what kind of schemes people wanted to see – but thought Arras Square was the kind of project that could seek backing.
Mr Ellesmere said the changes – which would also include removing reception staff from the council’s Grafton House headquarters – would lead to a small number of redundancies but the authority would try to keep these to a minimum by redeploying staff where possible.
East and West Suffolk councils also face tough decisions
Members of East Suffolk council’s cabinet are meeting on Tuesday to discuss how to deal with an £8.6m gap that has opened in its finances as it deals with the coronavirus crisis.
Like other councils the authority is still waiting to hear what extra financial support it will be receiving from central government, and at this stage it has not yet identified any cost-cutting measures.
Tuesday’s meeting is expected to see councillors discuss possible ways of closing the gap – with capital projects facing particular scrutiny.
Meanwhile West Suffolk council is still working out what impact the coronavirus has had on its finances over the last four months.
Its cabinet is due to meet later in July when it should have a clear idea of how much dealing with the pandemic has cost – and it is possible that by then local councils will know how much extra they will be given by central government.