Published: 00:01, 31 August 2017
“Paltry” money-saving measures have infuriated residents who are determined to stop the district council closing its help desk in Sandwich.
The drop-in centre inside the Guildhall helps around 75 people per week and is regularly used by those needing aid with council tax, benefits and parking permits.
In June, the district council’s cabinet made a recommendation to shut it, along with similar centres in Aylesham and Deal, due to a reported decrease in the numbers of walk-in customers, and to cut costs.
It said the closure of all three centres would save £22,500 in 2017/18 followed by annual savings of £45,000.
But residents in Sandwich have hit back with a petition, concerned that people will have to travel to Dover or go online to access services.
Speaking at a town council meeting, Cllr John Bragg said: “I’m disgusted that for such a paltry saving that they’re going to shut this down. We are getting rid of a valuable facility for the sake of Dover saying they’ve saved some money.
“This isn’t the way to save money and I think we should voice our fury that they’re going to do this.”
The campaign to save the centre is being championed by Sara Trillo, Labour’s candidate for the town council by-election on Thursday, September 7.
She said: “It seems the Conservative council in Whitfield have no knowledge or consideration of the unique nature of Sandwich.
“They want to close the centre despite it being well used and instead want residents to travel to Dover or go online.
“I spoke to an elderly lady last week who has never been online and said she is too old to learn now. Why should she have to go to Dover to use services that people in Dover can just access by walking?
“It isn’t fair to have one rule for Dover and another rule for Sandwich.”
A district council officers’ report said: “Overall footfall is reducing as more and more people are choosing to contact us by telephone or online.
“We have gathered an advanced level of customer insight and research, which has been pivotal in bringing us to this point of questioning the need for face-to-face customer services at these offices.
“There are rarely queues in these offices. Many of the inquiries can be dealt with in other ways.”
Cllr David Wood said: “I fully support this campaign. It is short-sighted to close this vital service. We lost the police shop a few years ago and now this council office may close. What will be next unless we stop the rot?”
“If Dover Council won’t fund this service the town council should step in. We have the resources.”
District councillor M.J. Holloway gave an update on the subject at last week’s Sandwich full council meeting.
He told members that a decision had been made to close the help desk by the end of November rather than in September, as previously expected, and extra resources will be allocated to the people who use it to show them how they can get the same services.
While he said it was with regret that the closure was to be enforced, he explained that 40% of the inquiries made are regarding parking and Dover District Council will be changing the way people pay for permits in November.
The council agreed to place the issue as an item on the agenda at its next full council meeting on Monday, September 25.
Residents can sign the petition online by clicking here.
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