February 10, 2011
attacks Highbridge Library plans in House of Commons
threatened closure of Highbridge Library has been brought up in
the House of Commons this week by the town's MP.
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
Tessa said: "Before any funding announcements had been made,
Somerset County Councils 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."
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 Exchequers attitude, who I think she
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
"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 States 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."
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."