To consider any questions under Standing Order 27.
15/21 – PUBLIC ARRANGEMENTS – QUESTIONS: The Mayor advised that he had received notification of three written questions under Standing Order 27. He first called upon Samantha French to ask her question of the Cabinet Member for Culture, Tourism and Sport.
(1) Question to the Cabinet Member for Culture, Tourism and Sport from Samantha French
The tourist information centre that was located at the Library in Knaresborough and those across the District do a very important and valuable job in promoting attractions to both residents and visitors.
Can the cabinet member for Culture Tourism and Sport please explain why Knaresborough Tourist Information Centre has not been able to open this summer, surely the UK staycation market will be considerably larger due to COVID foreign travel restrictions?
I’d like to thank Samantha French for her question.
The information service we provide for visitors and residents is wide ranging, from the directly managed Tourist Information Centres in Harrogate, Ripon and Knaresborough to the support we provide to community information points in Pateley Bridge, Masham and Boroughbridge. We also built and maintain the excellent Visit Harrogate website which welcomed over 180,000 visitors in June alone, where three of the top 10 searches were around Knaresborough.
Knaresborough Tourist Information Centre last opened at the library on Friday 20th March 2020 as we then closed all our venues to the public just prior to the first COVID lockdown. We had already committed to moving the Tourist Information Centre to the Courthouse Museum at Knaresborough Castle and due to the confined historic nature of the museum building it has been impractical to open safely under the prevailing covid restrictions.
We are planning to re-open the TIC and castle on Monday 19 July, subject to the confirmation of relaxing of covid restrictions.
We are still supplying the library with maps so they’re able to provide for any visitors making enquiries for them.
Given that most other Council swimming facilities have re-opened after COVID related closures, including Ripon, which is in a similarly old building, and that the Council has committed significant resources to enabling Knaresborough Pool to re-open, and considering that he told Councillors in April 2021 that he planned to re-open Starbeck Baths the following month, for what specific reasons Starbeck Baths still remains closed and when he expects them to re-open?"
Thank you Mr Watt for your question. Due to the unique layout of Starbeck
Baths and the Government's social distancing measures we have been unable to open the baths like we have for some of our other facilities. We are hopeful that the announcement by the Prime Minister on Monday means that these restrictions will be lifted from the 19th of July and we can reopen Starbeck Baths from this date. The opening hours will be announced in the coming days and will be different due to a number of vacant positions we are working hard to fill. Sadly like many other job roles there has been a shortage of lifeguards nationally and we have been working hard to fill these roles so that all our pools can open safely. This is also coupled with the fact that if any of the staff get notification from the NHS test and trace app to self-isolate then they must do so. For many of us that doesn't represent a problem as we can work from home but for our leisure centre staff this isn't possible and it has an unavoidable impact on the services we provide. Rest assured we are doing everything we can to ensure our services can safely return to normal as soon as possible.
Cllr Cooper, as Leader, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring this Council fully upholds the principles of openness, transparency & full accountability.
Perhaps you can explain then why these principles don’t appear to have been adhered to in relation to HBC’s decision in November last year to award a £165,000 contract for a new Visit Harrogate website?
The decision was made behind closed doors by Cabinet member Cllr Stanley Lumley and bypassed the Council’s normal tendering process. Also, despite its constant advice to residents that we should all shop locally, HBC did no such thing itself. It failed to undertake any serious market research, ignored all local and regional companies; and instead, appointed a Suffolk-based website design firm to handle the project.
The Council’s excuse that the decision had to be rushed through “because of Covid” would appear to be completely spurious. HBC would have been well aware that Visit Harrogate’s contract with its existing website provider expired on March 31, 2021 and therefore should have been making plans for a new website long before Covid reared its head.
As for the Council seeking to give the impression it wasn’t really involved in Visit Harrogate’s affairs until the tourism operation was moved back under HBC control in April 2020, this is disingenuous. Cllr Lumley sat on the Visit Harrogate board while HBC Chief Executive Wallace Sampson attended VH board meetings as advisor (although he now denies this title) so the two of them should have been fully aware of all strategic decisions being planned.
There are several still unanswered questions in relation to this matter – which raises another question. If there’s nothing to hide, why have three senior officers (Mr Sampson, Ms Joyce and Ms Norton) been quite so obstructive and unhelpful in providing full and credible answers? Will you now commit to the Council answering all outstanding questions on this matter? If not, why not?
Mr Lilley has I think three questions in his statement. In the circumstances he outlines in paragraph two I think the Nolan principles have been adhered to. In paragraph six he asked me why officers have been obstructive and unhelpful; I don't think they have been obstructive and unhelpful. Finally in paragraph six he asked if I will commit to providing full and credible answers. Full and credible answers have already been provided to him by officers. None of the correspondence is confidential and so if Mr Lilley wants to put it all in the public domain, in addition to his summary which reflects only his view of the matter, people who are interested in his correspondence can form their own view.