Council of the Future plan: Come on and do the co-location with us

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The perfect embodiment of Falkirk Council’s plans to become fit for purpose in the future actually came into being at the dawn of the 20th century.

Falkirk Library has served local people since 1901, with an extension to the historic Hope Street building coming along in the 1990s.

Now the library is about to play a major role in helping the council find new ways of delivering its services and make them more accessible to the public.

At a meeting of the council’s executive committee on Tuesday, members looked at an updated report on the Council of the Future programme and the latest news on its proposed west and central advice hubs.

In addition to the east advice hub, which has been operating for over a year in Grangemouth, the local authority is looking to create a west advice hub at Carronbank House in Denny, but 
potentially the most exciting – and cost 
effective – plan is the proposal, which members agreed to progress at Tuesday’s meeting, to locate the central 
advice hub in Falkirk Library.

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “Looking at 
co-location is one of the key principles within our strategic property review and so is looking for partners with which we can co-locate.

“The central advice hub coming to Falkirk Library is a chance to find some efficiency savings and has the potential to create a holistic service within our town centre.

“Discussions still have to take place on how the operating model will work, but I’m pleased Falkirk Community Trust have embraced this plan to locate an enhanced facility within Falkirk town centre.”

The recently approved general services capital programme has allocated £385,000 in 2017/18 and a provisional allocation of £500,000 for 2018/19 for the creation of the west and 
central advice hubs.

A co-located facility like the one proposed for Falkirk Library would bring a number of benefits, including linking up services for customers and providing capital and running cost advantages to Falkirk Council and Falkirk Community Trust.

Work has progressed on a detailed design for the west advice hub on the ground floor at Carronbank House and it is hoped the hub will be operational by August.

However, there is a tight timescale on the delivery of the new central advice hub – the council’s lease for its facility in Callendar Square is up in January 2019, so the hub would have to be up and running before then – possibly as early as December.

Councillor Dennis Goldie thought the council missed a golden opportunity to secure Callendar Square and its 400 space car park for £1.2 million. However, he did agree the library would suffice – if there was nothing else available.

He said: “The first priority is keeping Falkirk Library open. It isn’t a good location for an advice hub – it’s a very difficult road crossing and car parking is difficult there as well. It’s not ideal, but if it protects the library service and it’s all we can get then we just have to go with it.”

Councillor Meiklejohn said: “Unfortunately we don’t own buildings in the town centre which are suitable.”

Councillor Robert Spears said he was pleased the council was investing in its own buildings in this way.

He added: “Falkirk Library has been there for a long time and it’s a much cherished and loved building within the town.”

Other projects in the council’s modernisation and money saving masterplan include the early years expansion, which focuses on the number of hours provided for early learning and childcare.

At the moment parents receive 600 hours free each year, but the council is looking to increase this provision to 1140 hours by 2020.

The project will look at the resources required to expand this capacity and plan for the increase in provision across all the council’s early years establishments for eligible two-year-olds and for all three and four-year-olds, with a focus on quality, flexibility, accessibility and affordability of service provision.

Members also heard about plans for virtual learning in schools and the impact on workforce and technology required to deliver this.

Interlinked projects – Fit for the Future and Smart Working – Smart Travel will focus on rolling out more efficient ways of working across the council to better meet customers needs by putting in place value for money technology and transport solutions to support service delivery.

And from next month the council will move to a next generation contact centre – a more accessible system for customers to contact council services which will include a 24/7 emergency contact service.

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “We are starting to see some of the projects now being delivered and they will take us into new ways of working that will be more efficient and allow us to deliver a good service to the citizens of Falkirk.

“These changes will also allow us to deliver savings.”

Labour group leader Dennis Goldie asked if the administration had made any decision about what it intends to with the council headquarters.

He said: “This building is not efficient in terms of energy targets, so what’s happening with it?”

Director of development services Rhona Geisler said the HQ was part of the council’s strategic property review and there would be a update on the situation next month.