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Issue 312 – Fears for town library as council cuts begin to bite

THERE’S growing concern in Frome over the future of the town library as cutbacks at Somerset County Council start to bite.

The Conservative-controlled authority has a £76m budget deficit with debts of £400m and libraries is one area where it is looking to make significant savings.
Although no libraries have yet been named for closure, it is expected that some libraries will close and that there will be cuts to services and reduced opening hours at others.
“The public will be consulted about the impact of significant cuts to the library service that could see a number of closures,” said the council in a press statement. “It will also include consultation with local communities and agencies to either help operate or take over some libraries entirely.”
But a campaign is already building in Frome to make sure the town keeps its popular library which celebrates 20 years in its present location next month.
“Act now to Save Frome Library,” says one local campaigner, Dr John Payne of Vallis Way.
“Every day we hear about the cuts. But few people in Frome know that their library is on a secret list of County Hall in Taunton of services that ‘they’ (the Council) think that ‘we’ (the people) could do without. This is urgent because there has been no proper consideration of the importance of libraries in Somerset, no consultation with staff, and no discussion with the library users.
“The Full Council meeting is likely to take arbitrary decisions about libraries, youth clubs and policing cuts at its meeting on November 10. We need to tell our councillors and MP that this is not what we elected them for. And tell them now, not next week, or next month or next year.
“Next month Frome Library will celebrate its 20th anniversary in the fine building down in the Market Yard. Let’s make sure that this birthday is not its last.
“Some of your readers have already made their views known. If you care about Frome Library, please write today to your Somerset County Councillors and Member of Parliament.”
Another user, local writer, Crysse Morrison, adds, “I’m very concerned to read that the Cabinet (at Somerset Council) has twice postponed looking at the libraries report originally scheduled to be considered on 20th October. Does this mean that decisions about library closures will be taken at the final budgetary meeting on 10th November without reference to the review?
“I attended one of the public meetings at which there was strong support for maintaining Library Service, and am shocked that after a (presumably costly) consultation procedure, the review may not be considered before final decisions are taken.
“The Somerset County Council website states, ‘the public will be consulted about the impact of significant cuts to the library service that could see a number of closures. It will also include consultation with local communities and agencies to either help operate or take over some libraries entirely.’ – this seems to discount the opinions collected during the public meetings procedure and pre-empt a negative outcome.
“Surely if libraries are run by volunteers they will do so without any access to library databases, replenishment, or trained staff, and will become isolated stock collections reliant on donations from the public. Is this legal? The Public Libraries and Museums Act of 1964 states each authority has a statutory obligation to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient service’.”
Tens of millions of pounds in cuts to services have been proposed by Somerset County Council as it reacts to the Government spending review. It is estimated that funding for the Council’s services will be reduced in real terms by more than a quarter over the next four years.
“We have spent months looking at how we can be more efficient, and where we can cut but also how we can protect frontline services wherever possible,” said Somerset County Council leader, cllr Ken Maddock.
“There are things we really didn’t want to cutback on, but we just don’t have a choice,” he said. “We already have a huge debt so borrowing more is not an option – each year we pay out £36m towards our debt.”
Consultations, says the council, will take place in ‘key areas’ including libraries.
• What do you think? Write to Frome Times, c/o Absolutely Fabulous, 20 Bath Street, Frome or email frometimes@btconnect.com
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