WEST Devon Borough Council has decided to close its customer service centre in Okehampton as it tightens its belt to deal with a predicted £1.2-million budget shortfall.

The Okehampton office will close on March 29, with the council no longer accepting cash or cheque payments either at its Tavistock office or by post from April 1.

Cllr Jan Goffey, mayor of Okehampton, said: ‘I am not surprised. It is a great shame that there will be no local place for people in Okehampton to pop in and contact West Devon Borough Council without having to trek down to Tavistock.’

The council is facing a £900,000 funding gap by 2020/21 and that is set to grow to £3.4-million over the next five years. The ever increasing gap is largely due to cuts in central government funding. This has left the council facing tough decisions on how to manage its budget.

At its full council meeting on February 20, the council agreed to a raft of measures designed to help close the financial shortfall.

Closing Okehampton customer service centre will save the council £82,000 per year while stopping cash and cheque payments for bills will save a further £35,000 in processing costs each year.

Cllr Goffey continued: ‘If the solution to save money was so easy as to take away our centre and stop cash and cheque transactions, why was this not promoted before the suggestion that West Devon unite with South Hams as one council? That seems like such a waste of effort and energy.’

Cllr Caroline Mott, lead member for customer contact at West Devon Borough Council said: ‘Although change is never easy, we really do feel that by implementing these decisions, we will be able to offer a better value service for our residents.

‘Many rural councils are not able to provide two office sites for their residents and we have been lucky in being able to keep Okehampton open for as long as we have.

‘For customers who have other queries, we plan to make our mobile locality officers available on a set day and time in a specified location.

‘Residents will continue to have access to public computers at their local library or at the Ockment Centre, and they can access our services online.’

Those residents who wish to continue paying their council tax by cheque or cash can continue to do so by taking their payment to a local PayPoint or Post Office. Many residents already use this method to pay their bills, meaning footfall at the Okehampton office has dropped considerably in recent years.

One proposal for the future use of the building in Okehampton is to convert it into three flats, which the council could then use for emergency accommodation.

This would enable the council to provide homeless individuals and families with a safe and secure home environment, in a manner that will be more cost effective to the tax payer.

Cllr Mott said: ‘There will be no job losses associated with the closure of the office, as the staff currently based there will transfer to Kilworthy Park. We will continue to provide face-to-face contact for those who need it.’

To find your local PayPoint, you can visit the Post Office or PayPoint website and type in your postcode. You will then be given a map showing the location.

All other payments to the council for items such as parking permits, fines, fees and licences can be paid through the website with a credit or debit card.

However, as with council tax, these payments can no longer be paid by cash or cheque.

For information on how to pay your council tax visit www.westdevon.gov.uk, www.paypoint.com or www.postoffice.co.uk/branch-finder