Published: February 10, 2011
MP attacks Highbridge Library plans in House of Commons

The threatened closure of Highbridge Library has been brought up in the House of Commons this week by the town's MP.

Tessa Munt criticised Somerset County Council's cost-cutting programme during a debate about local government finance on Wednesday (February 9th).

Tessa, pictured outside Highbridge Library, said the town "probably needs a library more than any other because there are so few facilities."

And she explained why she believes the county council does not need to implement such savage cuts across the region.

The full transcipt from the House of Commons debate is reproduced below:

Tessa said: "Before any funding announcements had been made, Somerset County Council’s leader announced to local people that he wished to make cuts amounting to £43 million. Then, in early January, he announced that he wished to make a further tranche of cuts amounting to £20 million."

"He said that he would close some libraries, cut bus subsidies, cut the community safety budget by 100% - which would mean the loss of our wonderful police community support officers - cut funds for the Duke of Edinburgh Award and the youth clubs by nearly 100%, and cut arts funding and the voluntary sector by 100%. He also said that he would sell the county farms, which seemed ludicrous to me given that they provide a return of some 6% or 7% more than could be obtained from any bank."

"The leader of Somerset County Council seems obsessed with the idea of clearing debt. He does not seem to understand that for most businesses it is quite all right to have a mortgage or a loan. They know what the repayments will be, and they schedule them. There is nothing extraordinary about that. I do not think that I know a farmer or small businessman who has saved up all his money before buying stock. Such people go to the bank and take out a loan. They know how long it will take them to repay the loan, and it is scheduled. They increase their assets, and tuck the money back into the business. That is what has happened over many years in Somerset under the Liberal Democrats."

"The leader of Somerset County Council has said that he wishes to make his cuts over three years rather than four, which strikes many people as a frantic attempt to clear debt. It is a bit like people paying off their mortgage or their car or fridge loan and realising that actually they do not have any money and they cannot buy food because they are so obsessed with clearing their debt."

Labour MP Christopher Leslie interjected: "The Honourable Lady is making an important point about how politicians who are obsessed with debt reduction at the cost of everything else may well find themselves in jeopardy. Does that not remind her of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s attitude, who I think she is supporting?"

But Tessa Munt responded: "I disagree, because the situation here is that the county council has £29 million in reserves, excluding the money attached to schools, yet we have a man who wishes to put aside £15 million for redundancies, which is going to decimate the council staff, and to make cuts over three years instead of four. If he was to reschedule his debt over four years, it would be a lot less difficult for people in Somerset."

"Happily, as a result of campaigning by local people, three libraries have been saved: Shepton Mallet, Glastonbury and Cheddar. However, the library in Highbridge, an area that probably needs a library more than any other because there are so few facilities in that town, is still under threat."

"I approached one of the Secretary of State’s Ministers because I wanted to understand. There is so much confusion among local people about what is actually involved, because there is one grant and another grant, and little bits of money get thrown back and forth in conversation, and nobody really understands what is happening. I asked the Minister in question to explain to me in simple terms the situation facing Somerset."

"In simple terms, this year - the year ending on 31 March - Somerset has £368 million to spend, and next year, starting on 1 April, it has £360 million. That is a difference of only £8 million in spending money, which amounts to 2%. Somerset has had a fantastic deal, therefore, so I do not understand the obsession that this gentleman has. Moreover, the Government have been generous in granting £42 million in capital grants."

"That means we can fix the roads, which are in a shocking state, and do something about school buildings. As far as I can see, the county is £20 million better off than it ever has been, and, as I understand it, the capital grant is cash, and that £42 million is about £41 million more than anyone ever expected to have."

"As far as I can see therefore, Somerset has an increase in funding from central Government, and that funding is relatively generous in the current economic circumstances. I therefore do not understand why the county council leader is going to announce a series of cuts next Wednesday. If those cuts proceed and he makes those announcements on Wednesday, I will ask the Secretary of State to give me an appointment so I can come along with the leader of Somerset county council to ask that gentleman to explain himself and his actions."

 


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