Council asked to pause library cuts
Richard Evans Local Democracy Reporter
A council has been urged to pause controversial plans to reduce library opening hours by 40%.
Denbighshire councillors met at a special meeting at Ruthin’s County Hall HQ after the matter was “called in” due to public outcry.
The meeting followed the cabinet opting to slash library and One Stop Shop opening hours at a meeting before Christmas.
The cabinet faced widespread criticism after opting to reduce opening hours by 40%, with potential redundancies, in the hope of saving £360k a year as the authority faces a £24m black hole.
A public consultation before the cabinet decision garnered 4,500 responses, and revealed 90% of residents strongly disagreed with the then-proposals.
Now a special committee has asked cabinet to postpone the decision until alternative funding sources have been identified, including private investment and grants.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Merfyn Parry said the council hadn’t investigated enough the potential of approaching private companies such as offshore windfarms.
Cllr Parry also said town and community councils must also be asked again to fund the service.
“We are almost getting pushed to make a decision because this budget has got to be in by the end of January or the end of March,” said Cllr Parry.
“We’ve known since 12 months ago that we were in (financial) problems because we’ve all had to deal with the budgets in our own households, to deal with increased electric, and everybody is after more money, so we know.”
He added: “The response that came back from the library (public consultation) is showing a massive public need, bigger than anything that ever came in as a consultation since I’ve been on the council.”
Cllr Huw Hilditch-Roberts added: “Other members have talked about the knock-on effect on the elderly and vulnerable, children’s education, Welsh language – we can go on.
“The impact assessment is negative, but the work around it to make it positive hasn’t been tried.
“There are areas of this we can make positive.
“We have tunnel vision. Let’s find solutions, not problems. We are not finding solutions. We’ve got the problem we need to save, and we are just ticking a box.”
He added: “We all have choices. You do have choices.
“You can make a cut in a different part of the council. But because this is being done in isolation, this is not on the table.”
Eight councillors voted in favour, two against, with one abstention.
During the meeting Rhyl councillor Brian Jones said Denbighshire Council should look at private investment.
Speaking after the vote, Cllr Jones was critical of the council’s spending.
“In a nutshell, I can only quote what residents think,” he said.
“Residents, you can’t expect them to understand.
“Denbighshire had over £241m to spend in this financial year. It is hard for an ordinary resident to understand what they have done with all that money.
“Residents don’t want the cuts.
“As a council, councillors and officers, we should be doing things for the residents of Denbighshire, not doing it to them like we are, talking about reducing library hours.”
The matter will now return to cabinet for debate.
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