The money has been secured from the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and will enable the council to invest in a new and improved destination website, along with digital screens and interactive touch screen kiosks in locations across the district.
The move is part of a long-term review of how the council provides tourist information, both online and in-person, and will complement the existing tourism marketing undertaken by the council and other partners.
While the additional one-off funding will help to increase digital information, the council’s own long-term financial situation means that it has had to take the decision to close the physical offer provided by the Visitor Information Centres in Lancaster and Morecambe from September 9.
Along with many other local authorities the city council is battling against unprecedented pressures caused by steep increases in its operating costs, increasing demand for services, and below-inflation funding from the Government.
Immediate savings of £2.4million were agreed at Full Council as part of the 2023/24 budget to address the council’s significant financial deficit. This has included:
- A new senior leadership structure to reduce management costs, saving around £450k a year
- Deletion of vacant posts and efficiencies in back office support functions, saving around £500k a year
- Comprehensive review of the council’s land and buildings, minimising energy and maintenance costs, saving around £400k a year
While the savings have been made to protect essential frontline services such as waste collection, street cleaning, and maintaining parks, beaches, and open spaces, the external funding received via the UKSPF will ensure a strong visitor information offer can continue to be provided via other means.
Councillor Catherine Potter, cabinet member with responsibility for the visitor economy, community wealth building and culture, explained: “With Eden just around the corner we are expecting many more people from across the country to be eyeing a holiday in our district.
“We want people to be able to access everything they need before they get here so they can see the wealth of attractions and activities we have to offer and plan their trip accordingly.
“We also need to release Lancaster’s untapped potential and make more people aware of its fascinating history.
“All this means we need to up our game and improve our digital offer so people can quickly pick up the visitor information they need at all times of the day, as well as investing more in marketing campaigns to draw people in.
“The one-off external funding from the UKSPF allows us to make these changes and ensure we are able to provide information to the widest possible audience.
“We do, however, recognise that not everyone has access to the internet and we’re in discussion with our partner organisations to ensure we’re providing accessible information in a wider range of public and privately-owned venues than is currently the case.
“We’re keen to work with local venues to ensure the widest possible network and details of how businesses can get involved will be released in due course.”
“Unfortunately, the council’s finances mean we can no longer stretch to providing VICs, which cost around £250,000 each year to run, but by improving our digital offer we will reach more people than ever before and in more locations than just the two shopfronts we have at the moment.”
From September 12 the box office for the Platform will be operating from the foyer on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 12pm and 4pm. A call for Expressions of Interest has also been issued to see if an alternative operator can be found for when the council ceases to run the venue itself in March 2024.
Notes for Editors
The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is a central pillar of the UK government’s Levelling Up agenda and provides £2.6 billion of funding for local investment by March 2025. The Fund aims to improve pride in place and increase life chances across the UK investing in communities and place, supporting local business, and people and skills. For more information, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-shared-prosperity-fund-prospectus.
Last updated: 15 August 2023