Comments and feedback collected from members of the public are being used to shape plans to modernise Hampshire County Council's Registration Service (births, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships).
At the Policy and Resources Decision Day meeting (25 October 2012), County Council Leader, Councillor Ken Thornber will consider the outcome of the first phase of a public consultation held on proposals to reposition the service so that it can better meet the needs of customers in future, as well as making the best use of resources to deliver ongoing value for money for Hampshire taxpayers.
The Service registers over 18,000 births and deaths each year and conducts over 5,000 ceremonies, the majority of which are civil marriages. It operates from 16 Register Offices across the county, of which five are within a library, five in buildings shared with other organisations, and six in stand-alone accommodation, with nine dedicated ceremony rooms.
In recent years however, there has been a national decline in the number of people getting married, and a downturn in the number of marriages in register offices. Instead, more couples are now using approved venues for their ceremonies - of which there are over 150 in Hampshire. These include a castle, an arboretum, stately homes, hotels, country parks, the historic Great Hall in Winchester, and even a zoo!
On average, people use the Registration Service on only two or three occasions in their lifetime, and with more members of the public now expecting to access public services in a different way, Hampshire's Registration Service is looking to adapt and change to meet people's expectations where it can. For example, it is already possible to book appointments for birth and death registrations online and this will soon be extended to include appointments for notice of marriage and civil partnership as well as Nationality Checking Service appointments.
Within the proposals considered on 25 October, the Service is re-examining how it uses its buildings; for example, where it can co-locate and work in partnership with other local authorities, or relocate to other more widely used public buildings such as libraries and council buildings. This approach is being taken across the County Council to help deliver £2million of savings each year.
It will therefore be recommended that three Register Offices relocate during 2013. The proposals could see offices in Andover, Petersfield and Romsey move to alternative accommodation to allow the buildings in which they are currently housed to be sold to help generate savings. In the recent public consultation, the majority of people who responded agreed with the following options:
on expiry of the existing lease, move from the current office to alternative accommodation in Beech Hurst (Test Valley Borough Council offices - subject to Borough Council agreement)
move from the current office to a new facility in Petersfield Library
move from the current office to a new facility in the Town Hall
Approval will also be sought on new plans to relocate Totton Register Office to improved accommodation nearby, in the old High Street. Meanwhile, it will be proposed that a further public consultation go ahead during 2013/14 on plans to relocate Winchester Register Office to Castle Hill in Winchester (Hampshire County Council offices).
With over 60% of people questioned supporting proposals to close the under-used, part-time Register Office in Bishops Waltham, it will therefore be recommended that the Office closes in November 2012. The Bishops Waltham Office is open five hours per week over two half days, and alternative nearby register offices are available in Eastleigh and Fareham.
Councillor Thornber, said:
"I would like to thank everyone who has taken part in the recent consultation and provided their comments and suggestions. This feedback is very valuable, and an important part of the work that is underway to help reshape the service so that it can continue to meet people's needs and thrive in future; providing birth and death registrations, and services that the public can choose to use, that generate income, such as civil ceremonies and the nationality checking service."