The future of Guildford’s tourist information centre (TIC) is in doubt as councillors heard that providing an online service could save the council £70,000.
The TIC is currently housed in Guildford House Gallery, a Grade I listed townhouse and art gallery in Guildford High Street.
Its potential closure was discussed at a meeting of Guildford Borough Council’s service delivery executive advisory board on Thursday (May 19 2022). No formal decision was made because the committed (as the name suggests) is just there to advise.
The meeting discussed initial ideas which will then be brought to the borough council’s Executive for a decision. Council documents presented by offices show that the most common requests at the tourist information centre are for bus timetables and maps. Four options were presented to councillors, which ranged from maintaining the offer as it was to closing the centre and ending the offer completely.
The preferred option in the proposal paper was closing the physical office and, instead, providing information online. Councillors were told this “modernised, improved service” would deliver savings in the region of £70,000 and £80,000. The physical presence in the High Street would be lost and there would be potential redundancy costs.”
Comment from Gavin Morgan
The article on the future of the TIC (Tourist Information Centre) raised some alarm bells for me. We must all respect the fact that cuts need to be made but that does not mean services should be slashed left, right, and centre with no intelligent debate.
I am pleased to say that councillors at the Service Delivery Executive Advisory Board on May 19 felt the same. Thanks to their probing questions the lack of information was quickly revealed. Indeed several Councils questioned how they could discuss the issue with so little information
The claim that closing the office would result in a £70-80,000 saving was just an initial guess. Councillors were told that no information was available on visitor numbers to TIC but Cllr John Redpath pointed out there was a counter on the door. The argument for closure was supported by the fact that other towns are closing their TICs, the claim that people prefer to use online services, and that Guildford needs to “modernise” its offer.
All of this might be true but it is also woolly. The key questions that no one could answer were what is the value of the TIC to Guildford specifically, who uses it and how, what are the actual costs?
It was pointed out by several councillors that Winchester has gone the other way and invested in its TIC. More work is needed to understand the options available to Guildford. Thankfully, the overall conclusion of the meeting was that the future of the TIC should be considered in connection with a review of the heritage services to get a holistic view. The question is, will the council as a whole listen or will it bulldoze these cuts through with little intelligent debate?
It will be said that this was an early debate by an advisory committee with no powers and that it was only testing opinion. But it was quite obvious to me that insufficient work had been done to tackle the problem.
It was similar lazy working that resulted in the closure of Burchatts Farm Barn as a community resource using financial arguments that did not stack up.
We must watch this issue carefully.