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Stafford's Shire Hall Gallery could be closed as part of radical plans by Staffordshire County Council to save to save £109million over five years

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: December 12, 2013

By Robin Scott

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STAFFORD’S Shire Hall Gallery could be closed and vacated as part of Staffordshire County Council’s plans to save £109million pounds over the next five years.

The target, announced this week along with the Conservative-led council’s medium term financial strategy, will be achieved not a range of remodels and redesigns and not through a ‘cut and close strategy’, according to a leading councillor.

Deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, resources and transformation, Ian Parry, told the Newsletter it was ‘difficult to say’ how many people would face redundancy or redeployment under the scheme, which will also see youth services across Staffordshire transformed and the possible closure of 38 council-run youth centres.

“I'm fairly sure there will be fewer posts,” he said. “I think we are talking relatively small numbers at the end of the day.

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“We believe in keeping redundancies to an absolute minimum and doing anything we can to ensure that people stay employed.”

The report, set to go to the county council’s cabinet next week, identifies areas where savings might be made as well as spending pressures where more money will be needed in the future.

Councillor Parry declined to provide a list of the areas where cuts could be expected.

"You need to go to Birmingham or Walsall if that's what you want. That's not how we do it down there,” he said. “That aint the way we roll in Staffordshire.

“We can't afford the old councils that were in my view over-resourced. We've stripped out £130million from this place and I don't believe we've affected in any way negatively, any services that we provide. That demonstrates this can be done and I think if we are careful and go on that journey and use creativity and care and competence, we can reduce this organisation even further.

"Do you want a council like Staffordshire that does it that way or do you want a council that says yeah, we're going to close all these things and everyone can just suck on it?”

Mr Parry said a consultation would start in January over the plans to overhaul youth services if the plans were approved by the cabinet.

“Our youth services are in a fairly traditional format, and most councils have changed that over time. We think that there are opportunities here to provide services, or provide opportunities for young people that may not currently exist. What they are telling us is that the opportunities that we provide through our service are not what they want.”

Mr Parry said the proposed cuts to youth services would save around £4.5million pounds – with half a million anticipated in year one, £2million in year two and a further £2.6million by year three – as well as possibly generating income in the future through the sale of buildings currently used to host council-run youth centres.

"The bigger problem that we’ve got is that we've got quite a surplus of assets now that aren't utilised sitting there costing taxpayers money,” he said. “What we want to do is see how we can either utilise or dispose of those assets.

“Then we've got lots of buildings where they probably aren't fully utilised so, can we do some sharing and integration that means that actually we've got less buildings overall and we can sell the ones we don't need and we lower the costs across all of the estate.

“There might be a few youth centres in there at the end of the day, I can't guarantee there won't, more than likely there will be but who knows, it depends on the building.”

Another building facing closure and possible sale is Stafford’s Shire Hall Gallery.

The report outlines savings of £1.428million, achieved by relocation of the Shire Hall Library to Staffordshire Place and a ‘realignment of arts provision’ including ‘the vacation of the Shire Hall Gallery and reprovision of the arts offer.

Councillor Parry said he was not critical of the budget cuts from central government.

"I think people would tell you they do believe in smaller councils, that we don't need the big old-fashioned expensive councils that we had in the past. I think this is an opportunity to focus on what's really important.”

Mr Parry said technological changes in society meant councils needed to move fast to keep up and highlighted Staffordshire Place as an example of innovation.

“People criticise us for building a new office over there, but actually what that did was massively improve productivity and performance,” he said. “It's cost-neutral, and it saves us half a million quid a year, plus another, around £300,000 in other operating costs.”

“Surely that's a great deal for taxpayers,” he said. “But then people see it they say 'oh they've spent all this money on this building up there'.

“Facts are different than perceptions some times.”

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3 comments

  • Rich75  |  December 12 2013, 10:10AM

    Mr Parry's comments seem a little defensive regarding Staffordshire Place. Costs are obviously going to be questioned in a recession. Yes, a modern building has obvious cost savings (heating, maintenance etc) in the long term but what of the property the Council previously used and owns elsewhere in the town? Is it, as Stuart Nixon says above, 'gathering dust'? Mr Parry says: "Then we've got lots of buildings where they probably aren't fully utilised so, can we do some sharing and integration that means that actually we've got less buildings overall and we can sell the ones we don't need and we lower the costs across all of the estate." True, but how many of these buildings vacated in the town centre have been sold? Have any of these buildings been let or sold? What is the cost of security and maintenance for them as the Council is presumably still responsible for them? Has this been factored into the 'cost-neutral' claims? Admittedly, it is not easy making savings and the Council has a difficult job similarly to many other authorities. Finally, the Shire Hall should not be sold. Other than the Ancient High House and library what cultural activity would there be in the town centre? The art work and photography on show is excellent and many local artists have an opportunity to have their work exhibited. Otherwise, they face competing for space in Wolverhampton, Birmingham and beyond. And, of course, people in Stafford won't see their work.

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  • stuart nixon  |  December 11 2013, 10:37AM

    It's very easy to say that very few posts will be lost by closing 38 youth centres but what about the service users? Where wil the 'youth' go once the centres close? Moving the library will also mean a massive reduction in service provision. The Shire Hall library is pretty big & from what we can see, past the construction workers, the units in Staffordshire Place are pretty small. How many books, CDs, DVD, newspapers will disappear from the shelves to squeeze in to the new building? How many computers will be available for the public and will the childrens activities which are valued by parents who can't afford expensive nursery fees still take place? Libraries are community hubs. What will happen to the court-rooms which are an important part of Staffordshire's heritage if the Shire Hall closes? Will there still be a sensory room for the young and disabled? Will the public get a say into how their money is spent? What happened to the councils grand plan to rake it in by renting out retail space in Staffordshire Place? How likely is it that the Shire Hall will get sold when there's numerous other buildings the council have vacated in the town that are now gathering dust at the tax-payers expense? Yes cuts have to be made but are these part of a well thought out plan or just a knee-jerk reaction to national cuts?

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  • stuart nixon  |  December 11 2013, 10:31AM

    It's very easy to talk about 'not many redundancies' but what about the service users who will lose out? Cutting youth centres leaves young people without places to go and moving a large library to small retail units means a reduction in choice. What happend to the Council's ambitious plans to rake it in by renting out the retail units at Staffordshire Place? How much money have they made by selling off the other vacated SCC buildings (which I understand are still larely owned by SCC and gathering dust at taxpayers expense)?

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