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Visitor Information Centres and The Platform under threat due to council budget cuts

The Platform arts venue in Morecambe, also home to Morecambe Visitor Information Centre

Lancaster and Morecambe Visitor Information Centres and The Platform arts venue are under threat as part of "painful" council budget cuts.

The potential closure of Morecambe and Lancaster Visitor Information Centres and a change of use for The Platform were revealed at a meeting on Wednesday.

Previously known as tourist information centres, the VICs located at The Platform on Marine Road and the Storey in Lancaster are likely to shut at the end of the 2023 season.

Owners Lancaster City Council would then move towards promoting the district online via a "digital model".

Councillor Anne Whitehead, the city council's cabinet member for finance, told fellow councillors that The Platform's current use as an arts and concert venue was also no longer viable due to "escalating costs and resource constraints".

Councillor Whitehead said that "alternative uses" would be sought for the former railway station, which opened in its current form in 1997.

She said: "Whilst The Platform has hosted many popular and successful cultural events over its years of direct operation by the council, escalating costs and resource constraints mean the current operating model is no longer viable.

"Alternative uses will be sought for the building whilst the council continues to support Morecambe's rich cultural offer in every possible way, particularly as it accelerates over the coming years as the Eden Project Morecambe takes shape.

"During 2023-24 we will transform our visitor information, tourism and marketing provision from a physical presence in the form of Visitor Information Centres, which can no longer be funded from the end of the 2023 visitor season, to a more digital model, taking a highly focussed, online approach to promoting our district."

Councillor Melanie Guilding (pictured below) said she was "appalled" by the likely closure of the Visitor Information Centres.

"People say what a fantastic place it is," said Councillor Guilding.

"It's somewhere they can actually ask a person, and buy something.

"Why are we thinking about closing it?"

Councillor Whitehead said: "We have got financial pressures on our budget.

"We are underfunded by the government. That means we have to make savings somewhere. Unfortunately, we have to balance the books. It's been very very difficult to come to these decisions. We don't want to do this.

"I think more and more people are using online to access the information.

"We want to ensure we promote the district as much as possible but we are looking to do this online."

She said that staff affected by these possible closures had been "made aware".

Further budget cuts are also expected and were provided to councillors in a private or 'exempt' report ahead of Wednesday's meeting.

Councillor Caroline Jackson, leader of Lancaster City Council (pictured below), said the proposed cuts were "painful" and that the other proposals were exempt because they would "affect staff".

"We have done as many creative things as we possibly can to retain the services that you all value," said Councillor Jackson.

"They are things that people expect us to do as a council, we have done our best not to remove anything we can't build up again."

A basic council tax increase of 2.99 per cent, an average of £7.23 a year for a Band D property, was voted through by a majority of councillors at the meeting held at Morecambe Town Hall on Wednesday.

A review of council land and buildings is also ongoing, and could include possible leasing or sale of assets.

The use of Morecambe and Lancaster Town Halls is also under review to "minimise maintenance and energy costs".

The council will continue to operate its local museums, but will cut opening hours and bring in a revised operating model from October 2023, ahead of "a more fundamental review of the service". 

The council has said that unless drastic action is taken, it will be left with an estimated £4.2million black hole in its finances for 2023/24.

Longer term, the council is facing a potential deficit of £3.4 million in 2024/25, which could reach £7 million by 2026.

The council has vowed to protect frontline services, which include collecting bins, recycling, cleaning the streets in the Lancaster and Morecambe district, maintaining parks, beaches and open spaces, and ensuring access to services for vulnerable people.

Savings of £2.4m have been proposed in 2023/24, with a contribution from the council’s reserves, increased income and other changes making up the difference.

The council will vote on its overall 2023/4 budget, including the proposed cuts and closures, at its Budget Council Meeting on February 22.

Related Story: Lancaster City Council vows to protect frontline services despite facing £2.4m budget black hole - Beyond Radio

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