A senior Highbridge councillor has this week attacked Somerset County Council for considering closing the town’s library, claiming it is breaking government guidance and making up ‘pathetic excuses’.
Cllr Joe Leach, pictured with MP Tessa Munt outside the threatened library in Market Street, told Burnham-On-Sea.com that a review of senior management positions at both the county and district councils should be taking place before any cuts to vital libraries.
He claims that the county council is ignoring the advice of the government’s Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, who called for closures of libraries to be a last resort after every other alternative has been exhausted.
Cllr Leach, who is leader of the Liberal Democrats in Sedgemoor, told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “In a speech to the House Of Commons on December 13th, Eric Pickles said ‘Before we see libraries cut, I want to see councils sharing chief executives, their legal department, their accounts department, their payroll, their IT, their planning, their education functions. And when they have done all that, if they feel they have to close libraries, they should talk to me again’ which indicates that even should the worst happen, they should speak to the Local Government Secretary before issuing the closure orders.”
Cllr Leach added: “I am absolutely furious at the county council’s pathetic excuses for closure of library services – something that is vital and necessary to so many people across Highbridge and the county.”
“I have been calling for a top level management review for months, yet it has fallen on deaf ears. Now, it is revealed that their own Secretary of State said the same the day before the cuts were announced and still the Cabinet at County Hall did nothing to try and prevent these closures.”
“I call on Cllr Maddock to re-think this decision and save our libraries. Once it’s gone, we won’t get it back, and Highbridge will never forgive him when we know there are alternatives. I also ask him if he has even spoken or contacted Mr Pickles as was requested, should all options fail. I doubt it very much.”
Sedgemoor Lib Dems have also claimed that the Annual Grants Settlement from Central Government was much better than expected for Somerset County Council, meaning they actually have more money than previously expected.
“With this extra money, I question why the County Council are still considering the closure of libraries altogether. It has been poorly thought through, poorly consulted on, and poorly executed.”
And MP Tessa Munt recently told Burnham-On-Sea.com outside Highbridge Library: “The facilities here are used by many different people, not just book readers, and it would be awful – and unnecessary – to see them close.”
But Cllr Christine Lawrence, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Community, told Burnham-On-Sea.com during this week’s county council consultation in Burnham: “These are extremely difficult financial times and, unfortunately, tough decisions have got to be made. Changes are needed and these are sadly likely to affect Highbridge.”
The county council has previously claimed that Highbridge Library is among the county’s worst performing libraries by visitor numbers, making it uneconomic to run.
The council’s consultation period closes on 14th January and the feedback will be reported to the 2nd February meeting of the County Council’s Cabinet, which is due to decide whether the proposals should be agreed by the Full Council on 16th February. Burnham-On-Sea.com readers can have their say about the plans by filling in the feedback form here.
Highbridge Library will be holding an open day from 10am-12pm this Saturday (8th January) to raise public awareness of Somerset County Council’s proposal to close 20 libraries across Somerset and to allow residents of Highbridge to take part in the Libraries Consultation Questionnaire.