Kingswood Civic Centre, which four years ago underwent a £6m refurbishment, could be closed as part of a cost-cutting move, it was announced today.
South Gloucestershire Council is investigating how it can “rationalise” its estate and its Conservative leader Cllr Matthew Riddle has asked officers to review the use of the Civic Centre and whether it is needed in addition to the Badminton Road offices on the outskirts of Yate, eight miles away.
The council says it is looking at a range of options in Kingswood and will also start to think about how it could potentially accommodate more staff and facilities, including a council chamber, at Badminton Road.
Badminton Road does not currently have One Stop Shop or general reception facilities.
The Conservatives took power following the May elections with a pledge to deliver value for money. Cllr Riddle said: “Knowing that savings have got to be made, I passionately believe we should be making our council as efficient as possible first.
“Both the Civic Centre in Kingswood and the office on Badminton Road have lots of unused space and it is wasteful of taxpayers’ money to operate that way. As such, we are now consulting our staff and opposition council groups on how we can best use the space we have, and if there is room for any savings.
“We have made no firm decisions at this point and, as such, there are few further details I can give. However, what I can say is that whatever decision is made we are 100% committed to maintaining a council presence in Kingswood. Frontline services will continue and we are particularly committed to ensuring that the One Stop Shop, library and police presence in the heart of Kingswood continues, as it is important both to us and our residents.
“We are committed to protecting frontline services over empty office space.”
It is likely that any changes would take two to three years to implement.
Responding to the news, Labour’s leader in South Gloucestershire, Cllr Pat Rooney, who represents the Woodstock ward in Kingswood, said: “Four years ago we raised our concern that the Conservatives were not committed to maintaining a council presence at Kingswood and these claims were rubbished. It is now clear that we were right all along to have this concern.
“The Kingswood building is not only important for public access but also convenient for many of its staff who live locally. Kings Chase ward has higher than average unemployment and closing down a major centre of employment in the ward is a terrible idea.
“The council spent £6m refurbishing the Civic Centre before reopening it in 2012, and residents will rightly conclude that the Tory-run council is incompetent in managing its finances if it pursues the closure of the building, which Labour will oppose every step of the way.”
Labour highlighted a story that The Week In published in October 2011 in which Tory councillor John Goddard, at the time the council’s Cabinet Member for Corporate Resources, responded to claims made in a previous issue by Labour councillor Terry Walker.
Cllr Goddard is quoted as saying: “We, the Conservatives, wouldn’t have invested in the Kingswood building – including opening a new One Stop Shop and bringing a new police station back into the town after Labour demolished the original station – unless it was still central to the way the council delivers services to residents.
“Aside from the wide array of services it has provided – and will continue to provide – it contains the council’s civic chamber and central training centre – this is hardly evidence of reducing the importance of this flagship building as Labour claims.”
Tonight Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Ruth Davis said: “The library and the One Stop Shop are absolutely vital to keep in Kingswood, which is a priority neighbourhood.
“So long as the people can access the frontline services they need, we’d be open to looking at where back offices sit and committees meet – we’re a smaller council than we were five years ago, and we should make sure our offices are appropriate for the people we have in them.There’s no point spending money on desks when we don’t have the people to sit at them any more.”