Last Wednesday, the 17th of February, our group headed off to the soon-to-be-closed Kingswood Civic Centre to voice our disapproval to the planned £640,000 in cuts to South Gloucestershire library services. Hanham Library is one of three major services in the area in line for “scaling back” – library services at Chipping Sodbury as well as the Mobile Library are planned to be closed altogether.
Spirits were as high as they could be outside on a wet, freezing evening when we would rather have been inside not worried about our library services, but as we were joined by a Gruffalo and a TV crew from Made In Bristol things were not all bad.
The meeting was scheduled to discuss the budget for the next year, and although the library cuts were not on the agenda, we wanted to ensure that our concerns were heard prior to the start of the consultation process that has now started. Joe Unwin had an opportunity to speak before the council as did Robin Champion.
Later on in the meeting Staple Hill Councillor Ian Boulton presented a motion for a proposed discount of £6 per-household per-year (50p a month) to garden waste bins to be redirected towards protecting library services. The net cost of this measure to the Council budget is £230,000 and is funded from a Local Government Finance Settlement. The proposal was voted down by a group of Councillors including all three Hanham representatives – Heather Goddard, John Goddard, and June Bamford.
We are disappointed that on this occasion Councillors made the choice to act against the interests of the community they were elected to represent, and to close libraries so as to save each household with a green bin 50p per month.
We are especially disappointed at the token nature of this, in light of Council voting at the same meeting to increase rates for every household by 3.99% – an increase of £50 per year for a Band D property.
Members of our group got in touch with the Hanham Councillors individually, for a clarification of their decision to oppose a redirection of the proposed green bin discount towards library budgets. We received in response the same form letters (emphasis ours):
Thank you for your e mail about our budget, For the record we have not spent £1.8 million on taking £6 off the Green bin charge [our mistake].
The measure cost £230K and formed part of the Conservative manifesto last year. We were elected by a large number of our electorate who disagreed with the charge, and as such addressing the charge is part of our democratic mandate.
The bulk of the “extra money” given to us in the improved financial settlement has been put towards reducing our future deficit making our frontline services more sustainable for the future. Last night the other parties did not put forward any long term sustainable plan for safeguarding those services, they simply took the surplus in our budget for the next two years and frittered it, which I do not feel is the right move and is why I did not support them last evening.
However, Thank you for your views.
I understand that you wish to know how to access our consultation on Libraries which starts on Monday [22 February 2016]. Go to South Gloucestershire Council website and press “Tell us what you think” which will take you to a box entitled Consultations. The library consultation[link added] will not appear before Monday but will be open for 12 weeks, or if you prefer hard copies will be available in the Library. Please do take the time to express your views and comments.
We hope that Councillors appreciate the irony of directing us towards the library to access consultation documents about the partial closing of the same library.
While sticking by your pre-election promises is an attribute that is to be applauded in any democratic representative, far more valuable is flexiblity in the face of changing priorities within your electorate. Especially when they concern the protection of services that that same electorate considers indispensable.