Axing access points branded ‘ludicrous’

Heckington Community Rooms, which contain the parish council chambers, the Local Access POint for NKDC and the community library. EMN-191029-093506001
Heckington Community Rooms, which contain the parish council chambers, the Local Access POint for NKDC and the community library. EMN-191029-093506001

Parish councillors are angry at a decision to axe funding for eight Local Access Points (LAPs) which deliver district council services within communities in North Kesteven.

At a meeting last month, NKDC’s executive board agreed to remove all funding from March 31 to the offices which are run by parish councils in Billinghay, Heckington, Metheringham, Navenby, Skellingthorpe, Waddington, Washingborough and Bassingham.

Instead they would pump £16,313 of the savings made into opening two additional ‘digital hubs’ to the four which visit communities once a week at Ruskington, Heckington, Osbournby and Skellingthorpe.

Heckington parish councillors meeting on Monday reacted angrily to the decision, which had been taken behind closed doors.

Heckington parish chambers act as a Local Access Point, open five mornings a week, and chairman Coun Jan Palmer said around half the clerk’s time is spent dealing with NKDC enquiries, particularly for older, disabled and vulnerable people who may struggle to use a computer or travel into Sleaford to NKDC offices. She felt it was discriminating against such people by denying face to face access and support within their local community, reducing stress and anxiety.

The LAP allows people to view planning applications, report street light and pothole problems, fly tipping, rubbish collection requests, pick up local information about the area and collect application forms and information leaflets - often receiving help and advice about filling them in.

Coun Palmer said for funding of just over £4,100 a year they give great value for money: “We have proven we are a very busy LAP. It would be morally wrong to turn these people from Heckington and surrounding villages away and NKDC will have to employ more people to deal with the problems. It is ludicrous to close it.”

In his report to the executive board in September, Deputy Chief Executive Philip Roberts stated in the 20 years since the inception of the LAPs in 1999, the wants and needs for access to services had changed, with decreasing footfall across all offices, decreasing phone contact and increasing web traffic.

A survey revealed 56 per cent of respondents did not know the LAPs existed but had been able to access services through other means. The council also sought to improve access to digital services in line with demand.

The district council states that the digital hubs are a “new generation of community outreach”, recognising the changing technological world. Mr Roberts added that the digital hub sessions were proving popular, with attendees learning new skills and increasing their confidence with computers.