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Vulnerable 'overlooked' as Dover District Council closes its helpdesk in Deal Library

By Eleanor Perkins

The office in Deal Library provides a walk-in service on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for customers paying council tax or receiving housing benefit.

The council’s cabinet agreed in June to shut the Aylesham and Sandwich face-to-face customer service centres, but there was hope for Deal’s counter which was still used by about 220 people a week.

Protestors and concerned residents take part in a demonstration against plans to close the council help-desk based in Deal Library

Protestors and concerned residents take part in a demonstration against plans to close the council help-desk based in Deal Library

But despite a petition of almost 700 signatures, the cabinet decided on Monday (September 4) to close the Deal office in Broad Street as well and to replace it with a dedicated phone line.

Labour members across the district have reacted with disappointment to the Tory-run council’s decision, with one councillor saying residents would be left “high and dry”.

Cllr Mike Eddy, leader of the district council’s Labour Group, said: “This decision will leave a lot of Deal’s most vulnerable residents without access to face-to-face contact with Dover District Council. The amount of money to be saved by the council is peanuts but for the vulnerable the cost will be punitive.”

Vice-chairman of Dover and Deal Labour Party Stacey Blair said: “The closure means that many people in Deal and the surrounding areas will be denied access to services they need. Not everyone has internet or computer access and the proposed reduction of the bus service means buses over to Dover will be limited at best.

“It’s another example of how the most vulnerable people in our society are overlooked in order to save relatively minute amounts of money in relation to the council’s spending budget.”

Labour KCC candidate for Deal, Mike Eddy.

Labour KCC candidate for Deal, Mike Eddy.

Labour councillor for North Deal, Bill Gardner, said: “There are residents of Deal who need to have direct access to council services. The Conservatives have left them high and dry.”

The officers’ report says that at present about 10 customers a week use the Aylesham baseat Aylesham Health Centre in Queens Road.

Some 75 people a week use the Sandwich one at the Guildhall.

The closure of all three centres would provide an estimated saving of £22,500 in 2017/18 followed by annual savings of £45,000.

Labour councillor Peter Wallace has written to the councillor in charge of the decision, Mike Conolly.

He said: “I have written objecting to this decision because this is such a short-sighted approach to saving money.

“Taking away front-line staff shows how badly this council is operating and how heavily the government’s cuts are hitting local services.

“Pulling out of Deal Library and the Sandwich Guildhall will make no real savings that couldn’t be found from clearing up other in-house services. There are many elderly people who will now have to travel to Dover or Whitfield to have a face-to-face conversation with someone from the council. For people in Sandwich that is a 27-mile round trip. It’s a disgraceful decision to do this.”

The district council was contacted for a comment but had not replied at the time of going to press.

Conservative cabinet member Michael Conolly said it was the “least bad option” to save making redundancies.

He said: “The underlying reasons for this are twofold. The number of people using it has decreased quite a lot as many people are changing their habits and we need to cut costs.

“It’s not an easy decision but one that we needed to make.

“All of us councillors were undivided in saying we must put in a lot of effort to put in the helpline.”

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