Row over £2m refurbishment of council offices

Bickerstaffe House
Bickerstaffe House
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A row has broken out after £2m was earmarked to refurbish offices belonging to Blackpool Council – while space in a nearby £20m block remains empty.

Contractors are carrying out repairs to Municipal Buildings on Corporation Street, ahead of the JobCentre and a police inquiry desk being opened.

Scaffolding on West Street at the council's municipal buildings

Scaffolding on West Street at the council's municipal buildings

But questions have been raised why the services could not have been put into the recently opened £20m Bickerstaffe House – where two units remain empty.

The outlay, not all of which comes from council coffers, comes amid a backdrop of a 4.99 per cent council tax increase, cut backs in services and, most recently, an increase in parking charges, as council chiefs battle with a black hole of £18.7m.

Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservatives on Blackpool Council, said: “Bickerstaffe House cost millions to build and there are still empty units and floor space. Why couldn’t this be used?”

Three floors of the Municipal Buildings are being refurbished.

Jobcentre Plus is due to use two floors after relocating from its current site on Queen Street. An external lift will be built to provide access for members of the public.

The police are putting an inquiry desk into the building in order to maintain a town centre presence when the Bonny Street station is replaced by a new police station currently being built on Clifton Road, Marton.

They are putting £150,000 into the cost of alterations.

Both Jobcentre Plus and the police will pay rent and service charges to the council amounting to revenue of £220,000 a year in total.

About half the £2m cost is going towards essential repairs including a new roof.

Coun Mark Smith, cabinet member responsible for municipal assets, said: “As part of restructuring our offices and moving the police and Jobcentre Plus into Municipal Buildings, a great deal of remodelling work is required to take place. This would include fixing the roof of Municipal Buildings, which is in desperate need of essential repairs, as well as knocking through walls, replacing windows, replacing the heating and electrical wiring, refurbishing the stairwell and installing an external lift up to the new Jobcentre Plus offices.

“A lot of work needs to take place, but the benefit for residents of having council’s customer centre in the same building as the police and Jobcentre Plus will be extremely helpful, while the rent coming in to the council will help protect vital council services and contribute towards the long term investment.”

Coun Williams added: “This council continue to plead poverty whilst increasing council tax and parking charges while cutting essential services, yet they continue to invest in money losing schemes that at best seem senseless.

“These refurbishment costs will take 10 years just to re-coup and that’s without any profit whatsoever. Bickerstaffe House cost millions of pounds yet there are still empty units and a whole floor of unused office space.”

Coun Smith said Jobcentre Plus was contributing to the cost, but a spokesman for the DWP could not clarify what money it was putting in.

Coun Smith added: “There is no getting away from the fact this work is expensive, however Jobcentre Plus has agreed it would pay for its share of the cost and we have rigorously tested the marketplace to get this work at the best possible price. I am pleased this contract has gone to a Blackpool company, meaning the money from this work will stay in the local economy.”

Blackpool-based builder F Parkinson has been appointed to carry out the work.

There are currently two empty units to let on the ground floor of Bickerstaffe House which opened in 2014.

This year the council has had to cut £18.7m from its budget and increased council tax by 4.99 per cent.

Among services to be scaled back in recent years have been the cutting of grass in public areas.