PLANS to close 37 county libraries have been branded unnecessary and “shameful” by the leader of Lancashire County Council’s Conservative opposition group.
.Coun Geoff Driver says the Tories have twice identified a £15m pot, available due to a change in financing arrangements, which the council could have used to halt any shut-downs.
Members of the public will have 12 weeks from next Wednesday to comment on cost-cutting proposals to shut 106 buildings, including the libraries and some children’s centres. The ruling Labour group said Government funding cuts have forced it to review the council’s property portfolio and it wants to streamline service delivery and create a new network of multi-use Neighbourhood Centres. Some 222 premises were reviewed and the council says the proposed closures will save £2m in running costs.
But when the controversial proposals were reviewed at this week’s executive scrutiny committee Coun Driver said the library cuts were just not necessary. He unsuccessfully proposed that some of the £15m be spent on keeping libraries open while more consideration is given to their future.
Council Deputy Leader County Coun David Borrow replied that using £15m from capital reserves was just spending two years “avoiding a difficult decision.”
Afterwards Coun Driver said: “It is shameful that the Labour Administration at LCC is proposing to close 37 libraries in Lancashire when there is simply no need to close even a single library ... LCC has faced reductions in Government grant but the Labour Administration has caused the financial crisis LCC now faces by their wastefulness, mismanagement and gross incompetence. And, sadly, the people of Lancashire have to pay the price for that.”
Council leader County Coun Jenny Mein repeatedly stressed that the list of buildings under threat could be changed - depending on feedback, saying: “They are proposals not done deals. I think we’ve proved we listen to people.”
Cabinet member County Coun Marcus Johnstone said though the “savage cuts” were being forced on the council: ”Something we can salvage from it is a library service that really does work for the modern age we live in.”
The council’s cabinet will vote on the closures tomorrow (Thursday) triggering the next round of consultation. If given the final go-ahead closures would begin on October 1. The council says it also plans to invest £20m in its future property portfolio.
•The ruling Labour group was also accused of not giving opposition councillors enough time to read the 144 pages of property strategy documents before this week’s crucial scrutiny meeting. The papers were expected on May 3, but were released on Friday afternoon, the day after the local council and Crime Commissioner elections.
• Buildings facing closure include: Fulwood Library, Preston East Children’s Centre. St Lawrence Children’s Centre at Barton, Longridge Young People’s Centre, Whalley Library and Spring Wood Children’s Centre, Willow Park Children’s Centre in Longridge, Whitewell Bottom Community Centre, Bamber Bridge Library, Bamber Bridge Children’s Centre, Kingsfold Children’s Centre. Longton Children’s Centre, Lostock Hall Library and Children’s Centre,Penwortham Library, Penwortham Young People’s Centre, Ansdell library, Freckleton library, Kirkham library, Kirkham Young People’s Centre, Lytham Library, Orchard Children’s Centre in Freckleton, Pear Tree Children’s Centre in Kirkham,Adlington Library and Children’s Centre, Astley and Buckshaw Children’s Centre, Coppull Children’s Centre, Coppull Young People’s Centre, Eccleston Young People’s Centre, Highfield Children’s Centre, Millfield Children’s Centre in Brinscall, The Zone in Chorley, Hesketh with Becconsall Children’s Centre, Cleveleys Library and Children’s Centre, Fleetwood Children’s Centre. Garstang Young People’s Centre, Preesall Young People’s Centre,, Rural Wyre Children’s Centre in Garstang,Thornton library, Bolton le Sands library, Carnforth Library and Silverdale Library, • It is possible the Youth offending Team could be based at Preston Bus Station.
• Other buildings will become Neighbourhood Centres. It is proposed there will be 19 in Preston, 10 in Chorley, seven in Fylde, six in Ribble Valley, 11 in Lancaster, 11 in Hyndburn and West Lancashire, 10 in Wyre and 16 in Burnley.