Tourist centre facing an uncertain future

FEARS are growing that a nationally-recognised tourist office in west Suffolk could be closed and merged with other services to help a cash-strapped council claw back its debts.

Sudbury’s Tourist Information Centre (TIC) was recently listed as one of the top ten tourist offices in the country but Babergh District Council’s debt means its �47,500 annual budget will have to be slashed.

Chris Foti, Babergh’s head of community development, said this would be the second year running that it had to find a seven-figure sum of savings and efficiencies from its budget.

He said the council would be investigating the possibility of a merger between Babergh’s TIC and Sudbury Town Council’s Advice Bureau – both staffed and located separately within the Town Hall.

He said: “In this way a single integrated service can be provided with less money. It is still early days but the council will be considering detailed proposals in the summer and will be keeping TIC staff informed throughout the process.”

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According to Babergh, Lavenham TIC is not one of its services being looked at under the current savings review.

Sudbury’s town clerk Sue Brotherwood said the town council was doing everything it could to make the best of a bad situation.

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She said: “We add �9,000 to Babergh’s budget to ensure the TIC is open all year but we know changes have to be made or we could lose it altogether.

“We proposed the idea of merging services, the offer is there, and now it is up to Babergh members to decide what they want to do.

“This is a very worrying time for us – the last thing Sudbury needs is the loss of its wonderful TIC.”

The importance of the centre was demonstrated within a few hours of opening on Monday morning.

The EADT learnt that the TIC had received calls from Europe while American tourists had visited to get information on the town.

Sudbury pensioner Muriel Shapley, of St Mary’s Close, said it was also a vital source of information for local people.

She said: “I have just been into the office to pick up some travel brochures for our next holiday and I visit the centre at least once a month. I’m really upset about this possible closure. I’m aware that tough economic decisions have to be made but tourism is a way of boosting our economy and closing an award-winning tourist office will not help us do that.”

Concern over the future of the TIC coincided with the appointment of a Sudbury born Conservative MP as Minister for Tourism.

John Penrose, MP for Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, has been chosen by David Cameron to oversee efforts to boost domestic tourism.

News of his appointemnt was welcomed by Alex Paul, tourism manager for Choose Suffolk, who said he was looking forward to the Conservatives fulfilling their pre-election promise to support tourism at a local level.

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