Plans by Derbyshire County Council to reduce hours, staffing and resources for the county’s 25 largest libraries, with the remaining 20 libraries offered to the community to run, are facing a new challenge.
Controversial library plans challenged by County Council Opposition Groups
Leader of DCC Labour group Cllr Anne Western (pictured above) said: “Cllr Lewis and the Derbyshire Conservatives, in trying to calm public anger at their proposals, have managed to undermine the Council’s consultation with residents by making policy on the hoof.
“They have produced a draft strategy but are now adding other ideas into the mix that aren’t in the original plans at all. The consultation is now completely flawed. How can the public respond when they don’t know exactly what the plans are?
“To try to sort out this mess, Labour, supported by the LibDems, have called in this Cabinet report so that it can be examined by the Scrutiny committee to get some clarity on what the options actually are, rather than what Cllr Lewis would wish them to be.”
The report says that: “If there is a lack of customer/community support for the proposals outlined within the paper the library service would need to review all aspects of current service provision with a potential requirement to make further significant reductions to opening hours, staffing, the materials fund and mobile library provision…..This could result in some libraries being open for less than one day a week with few or no new books or resources added to the stock.”
However, in response to the immediate outcry from the public, Cllr Lewis is promising that no libraries will close even if community groups don’t come forward. He is now suggesting that other models, such as mutuals, are an option.
Cllr Western said: “This is another example of the Conservatives bringing out a plan but then twisting and turning when there is opposition to it. The draft Derbyshire Public Library Service Strategy that requires Secretary of State approval and which will be the basis of the 12 week public consultation does not mention mutuals at all. If there are other alternatives, these should have been included in the Strategy so that the public has the full range of options to consider.”
Council officers described the mutuals model as being a higher risk, outsourced service with unknown costs and rejected this as a preferred option.