To consider anTo consider any petitions received from the public.
Petition Asking the Council to Save Services at The Bognor Regis Town Hall
A Petition has been submitted asking this Council to save services at the Bognor Regis Town Hall.
As the Petition contains over 1,500 signatures it requires a debate by Full Council.
The procedure in place in the Council’s Constitution for such debates confirms:
· The petition organiser will be given 5 minutes (maximum) to present the petition at the meeting.
· The relevant Committee Chair will be given 5 minutes (maximum) for a right of reply
· Following the presentation of the Petition, Members are invited to debate the Petition for thirty minutes with each Councillor being allowed to speak for a maximum of three minutes.
Attached is a report from the Interim Group Head of Finance and Section 151 Officer for the Council to consider in holding this debate.
y petitions received from the public.
The Chair confirmed that as announced at the last meeting of Full Council on 9 November 2022, a petition had been received containing over 1,500 signatures asking the Council to protect services provided to the public at the Bognor Regis Town Hall.
The wording of the petition had been set out in a report provided by the Interim Group Head of Finance and Section 151 Officer [as set out in the agenda pack at pages 1 to 4] confirming that:
The Council is asked to “immediately restore frontline face to face services for the public to Bognor Regis Town Hall and maintain those services there for the foreseeable future. We are concerned that those in the town and surrounding villages who are on limited income, have limited mobility, are not on the internet and are not able to be diverted to appointments elsewhere or at another time, will lose the convenient access to Council services that the Town Hall has provided since 1930. We call on Arun District Councillors to recognise their responsibility to provide convenient and easy LOCAL access to all Council services for all members of the public in Bognor Regis and surrounding villages, particularly the elderly and those of limited income and mobility”.
In line with the Council’s Petition Scheme, set out in the Council’s Constitution at Part 8 – Codes and Protocols, Section 4 – Petitions Scheme – Paragraph 5.0 – Full Council debates, the Chair firstly invited the Petition Organiser, Mrs Mandee Keeling, to present the petition.
Mrs Keeling then presented the petition. She confirmed that the Town Hall was the heart of Bognor Regis and was treasured by the public. It was explained that the petition had started after Mrs Keeling had come into contact with many people who had spoken about how hard it had become for them to talk to their Council face to face. She stated that these people were elderly, disabled and often had no means of transport and so could not easily get to the Civic Centre in Littlehampton or had little or no access to online services. Also, those that had tried to make contact with the Council, through various means, had complained that their experiences had not been positive and their queries had not been answered swiftly. Mrs Keeling outlined that the petition had stretched from Rose Green to Middleton-on-Sea as well as many shops and business in-between. In organising the petition, Mrs Keeling confirmed that she had spoken to many people about the plight of services and most residents had agreed that the Council was hard to reach. They had also wished to convey that they loved their Town Hall and wanted to see it working for their community. Mrs Keeling stated that the Council had gently reduced services to the people of Bognor Regis and surrounding areas and had done this with their usual manner of distain towards the people in the town, calling people ‘moaners’ if they wished to complain and calling the petition misleading and time wasting, this was not the case. Arun District Council had done this without consulting with elected Councillors. The concern of the public was that the Town Hall and its services to the public would continue to decrease and there was genuine fear that the Town Hall, at some point in the future, would be closed. Mrs Keeling pleaded with the Council to save the Town Hall and its services by asking the Council to maintain face to face Council services in Bognor Regis Town Hall for the foreseeable future and to look after this splendid example of Bognor Regis’ heritage. Mrs Keeling asked Councillors to support the strong message being delivered by the petition.
Having thanked Mrs Keeling for her presentation, the Chair then invited the Chair of the Corporate Support Committee, Councillor Dendle, to make a response to the petition. He thanked Mrs Keeling for the petition and for the obvious hard work that had been dedicated to it and also for her interaction with those that had signed it. Councillor Dendle referred Members to the report provided by the Interim Group Head of Finance and Section 151 Officer which confirmed that the petition had been built on a false premise because face to face access was still available at the Town Hall. He stated that over the years there had been a change with more people contacting the council virtually or by other means but that this did not mean that a face to face service was not available or that this service would not continue to be provided for the foreseeable future. The Council continued to look at how services could be provided in different ways to benefit the public. The Officer report confirmed when the Town Hall was open for business and when telephone or face to face contact could be made.
Councillor Dendle then reminded Members of the recommendation set out in the Officer’s accompanying report. Councillor Dendle then formally proposed this recommendation which was “Members are asked to consider the report and to confirm how the Council should respond to the petition based upon the facts presented”. Councillor Dendle confirmed that Councillor Roberts would be seconding this recommendation.
The Chair then invited debate from Councillors, the first to speak was Councillor Dixon. He too thanked Mrs Keeling for the petition and confirmed that he wished the response of the council to be that a statement be issued to reassure residents that the council would continue to provide face to face services at the Bognor Regis Town Hall for the foreseeable future and that a list of all services that could be accessed face to face be provided. This would go some way to correct any mis-messages about services not being provided in the future and would reassure the public that the Council’s intentions were good.
Councillors responded confirming that they would be happy to support this proposal as they felt that post Covid-19, services to the public at the Town Hall had changed in that the public could no longer just drop into the Town Hall to discuss a problem with a member of staff, an appointment now had to be made to do this. It was outlined that the petition had made it clear that the public wanted to be able to call into the Town Hall at a moment of need and see a member of staff at that point. There were some Councillors who felt that that the Town Hall was being underutilised and so there was a general sense of fear that this would result, in the longer-term, in it being sold.
Further debate saw mixed views being expressed. Although some Councillors accepted that there were staff in place at the Town Hall to assist with the booking of appointments, they also felt that current provision was inadequate, and that proper public access was required. Concerns were also expressed over the lack of privacy for those visiting the Town Hall to book appointments with staff and that confidential space should be made available. Another observation made was that with increasing housing numbers, there would be more need to expand customer services at the Town Hall and that more thought should be given to making it a more effective one stop shop.
Councillor Gunner, as Leader of the Council, confirmed and reassured that no discussions had taken place with Officers to consider either reducing services at the Town Hall or selling the Town Hall. In responding to the comments made about the Town Hall operating reduced customer services, Members were reminded of the varied and excellent support services provided to residents and that ‘in person’ appointments were available along with opportunities to gain the assistance of staff using the telephone, or face to face appointments by virtual means. Examples of the types of service provided to the public were highlighted proving that there was no attempt to reduce the care and support provided to residents.
Other Councillors confirmed that they supported Councillor Dixon’s proposal as this provided a solid response to the petition. Councillors thanked Mrs Keeling for her work and thanked everyone who had signed the petition for engaging with the Council and for confirming how they felt.
Following further debate, Councillor Dendle referred to the recommendation that had been set out within the Officer’s report which he had proposed and he confirmed that he would happily accept Councillor Dixon’s proposal as an amendment. This was also accepted by Councillor Roberts who then seconded the recommendation in that report.
Councillor Dixon then formally proposed his amendment which read “That a statement is issued to reassure residents that the Council will continue to provide face to face services at the Bognor Regis Town Hall for the foreseeable future along with a list of all of the services that can be accessed face to face”.
This amendment was then seconded by Councillor Coster.
On this amendment being put to the vote it was declared CARRIED.
That a statement is issued to reassure residents that the Council will continue to provide face to face services at the Bognor Regis Town Hall for the foreseeable future along with a list of all of the services that can be accessed face to face.