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Welshpool used as an example

Created on 12/07/2016 @ 08:34
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Welshpool is being used as an example to others of how to save vital services and facilities in the wake of crippling cash cuts.

While public buildings close or face the axe across the country, Welshpool says its experience proves that it doesn’t have to be that way – the Shropshire Star reports.

Not only have the toilets remained open in the town, it now doesn’t cost anything to spend a penny. The town’s tourist information centre is thriving, with a third more visitors through its doors in recent months. And when Welshpool’s Day Centre was threatened with closure, Welshpool Town Council stepped in to run in, the only one in the UK with such a role.
The town council has taken over a host of services that would have been otherwise lost because of Powys County Council’s financial straits.

Recently its town clerk, Robert Robinson, talked to other Welsh towns about Welshpool’s success and has now been invited to do the same at a national conference in England.

The secret of its success, he says, is not rocket science. It is running the town council like a business yet still ensuring the community’s needs are met.

Welshpool Town Council delivers a huge array of services. It is responsible for buildings including the Town Hall, a recreation complex, two public toilets and the council offices as well as outdoor facilities – playgrounds, sports fields and open spaces, a country park, allotments, flower beds, memorial garden a bus shelter, war memorial and a motte and bailey castle.

It runs the town market and hosts events from the Welshpool Air Show to the carnival and winter festival. And its latest responsibilities include the railway station car parks and Welshpool Day Centre.

Mr Robinson said: “We run the town council like a commercial business. First and foremost we found out what the community wanted and whether it was willing to pay extra if the council was to take over services under threat.”

A questionnaire to residents set out not only was under threat from Powys County Council cuts but also the cuts in grants from the county to the town council and how much taking over services would cost ratepayers.

 “We discovered that of the money spent in the town 25 per cent is local, 30 per cent is from caravan parks and B&Bs and 45 per cent is people stopping on their way to somewhere else.

“We also know that 33 per cent of people are over 60 and that 32 per cent do not have a vehicle.”

After residents confirmed they would pay extra for keeping services the town council began early negotiations with Powys to take over services councillors believed to be the most important to Welshpool.

Public toilets were deemed a must and Mr Robinson said that by negotiating early the town council was able to make a deal which included getting the toilets refurbished and a cash sum for taking over the service.

“We ensured we had the building freehold and applied for grant aid. Then when investigated why the electricity costs were so high we discovered it was because the block had underfloor heating, which of course we have turned off.

“We also decided not to charge for ‘spending a penny’ because of the cost of making that charge.”

By making changes the town council has slashed the costs of running the conveniences. Similar deals were struck for the Tourist Information Centre and the town council has been able to let a section of it to a taxi firm to bring more funding in.

The Day Centre is a major coup for Welshpool with the town centre the first in Britain to run such a service. “We have grant aid coming in to run it and have managed to cut costs including the cost of proving a hot meal for service users every day,” Mr Robinson said.

Now the council is looking to see if it will be able to take over the street scene services.

“It will cost our residents just £9.77 a year this year dropping to 6.52p by 2018 to keep Welshpool looking good. Residents have told us they are happy to pay so we are pressing ahead.”




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