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Camden plan for digital advertising and 40p public toilet charge to tackle £70m cuts

Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet member for finance, atop Camden Town Hall. Picture: Nigel Sutton. Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet member for finance, atop Camden Town Hall. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Thursday, September 4, 2014
9:00 AM

Camden Council is preparing to introduce charges for the use of public toilets and sell digital advertising on the side of its buildings in an effort to plug a £70million funding gap.

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New revenue and savings

£2.4million savings through move to online parking system

£412,000 saved by streamlining alcohol treatment providers

£2.5million could be generated through digital advertising

£80,000 savings through removal of two library service positions

The plans are part of a raft of new money-making schemes devised by the council to deal with government cuts, which also 
include a levy on late-night bars and corporate sponsorship of public parks.

Since 2010, the council has been forced to make £93m worth of savings and is required to cut a further £70m over the next three years.

Back-office “efficiencies”, as well as the revenue generated through new advertising, have been earmarked by the council to offset £30m of these savings.

Large-scale job losses and cuts to frontline services are expected to be announced in December to deal with the remaining £40m deficit.

Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet member for finance and technology policy, said: “What we have got to do in order to protect frontline services is find ways to raise extra revenue.

“I don’t want Camden to be spoiled by public and private advertising but it’s a necessary measure. It’s not something we want to do but it’s something we have got to do to protect frontline services.”

Camden Conservative leader Cllr Claire-Louise Leyland told the Ham&High the council was expected to announce 500 job losses in December, in addition to the loss of 200 managerial posts which was set to be announced at a cabinet meeting last night.

Cllr Leyland criticised the council for a lack of consultation with residents on the job losses.

She said: “If we are wanting to make fundamental changes to how we work and involve residents in decision-making, surely that would have to be thought about before we get rid of all those staff?”

Cllr Leyland conceded that the council’s revenue-raising measures were “worth considering” but insisted the idea of digital 
advertising was a concept promoted originally by Tory Swiss Cottage councillor Don Williams.

The council will begin a public consultation on its plans in the new year and will be required to change its planning rules in order to enable digital advertising on public buildings.

Cllr Blackwell said the council owns “half the properties on Heath Street” in Hampstead but admitted that the area would not be “appropriate” for the new plans, pointing to “town centre” buildings such as Swiss Cottage Library as preferable contenders.

The council projects advertising revenue could bring in £2.5m by 2018.

Camden’s nine free-to-use public toilets, including sites in South End Green and Pond Square, Highgate, cost the council £200,000-a-year to maintain and will be subject to charges under the new plans - a charge of 40p per entry has been rumoured - like the charges levied on toilets at mainline train stations.

There are also plans for an annual levy on late-night venues across Camden to fund community policing during these hours, as well as commercial partnerships with companies wishing to use council-run parks in the borough.

The council is also planning to launch a campaign calling on the government to allow £1-per-bed-per-night levies on hotels in Camden to help fund street cleaning in popular tourist spots.

As part of the planned “efficiencies”, a vacant “strategy post” in the library service will be lost and one customer service officer will be removed from the schools library service.

Swiss Cottage School Development and Research Centre is one of a number of primary and special schools that subscribes to the council’s schools library service, paying an annual subscription of £4,069 for access to library resources.

Headteacher Kay Bedford did not believe the changes would affect the school’s service from nearby Swiss Cottage Library, in Avenue Road.

She said: “We are across the road from the library so it’s easy enough for us to use it. I think the council is trying to do its best not to cut frontline services.”

The council also plans to save £412,000 through changes to its alcohol treatment services by streamlining three care providers into one.

A council spokesman said: “We currently provide two alcohol support services – a community alcohol service and a family alcohol service. These services are delivered across three contracts at a cost of £1.3 million annually.

“We’re proposing to change the way these services are delivered. There will be no reduction in support and we will continue to focus on recovery, increasing social inclusion and promoting independence.”

Another £2.4m will be saved through a reduction in pay and display parking machines as part of a move towards a new online system.

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