Three's not a crowd as library cuts loom

Only three people turned up to a public meeting over controversial library cuts in the Black Country – and two of those were a Tory parliamentary candidate and one of his supporters.

Three's not a crowd as library cuts loom

The third person was a masters student from Coventry University who was using the meeting as research for her degree thesis.

Seating for more than 50 people had been set up at Central Library in Walsall on Saturday in anticipation of a large crowd.

People were advised to book in advance of the meeting because of the expected high turn-out over plans to close half the borough's libraries.

The meeting, which went ahead regardless, was delayed for 20 minutes to allow for late arrivals. But when no one else turned up, Walsall's head of libraries Sue Grainger went ahead and gave her presentation.

Sue Grainger, head of libraries, heritage and arts gives her presentation to the audience of three, including North Walsall parliamentary hopeful Douglas Luke Hansen and supporter Jas Sangha

Douglas Hansen-Luke, the parliamentary Conservatives candidate for Walsall North, who was there, said the people on the platform outnumbered the audience. He counted five council staff in attendance, including the tea lady.

"The sight of all those empty seats was not an auspicious start. When you consider that the consultation was set up to save money, it turned out to be quite an expensive exercise.

"My initial suspicion was that the timing, on a Saturday just before Christmas when many people would be busy shopping, was deliberate by the Labour group. You also had to ring in advance to book a place which could have put people off.

"It could also be that, with books so much cheaper than they used to be, that libraries are not as important as they were as a book-lending service.

"But I was surprised, with 250,000 votes across the borough, that no one from the other parties were there.

"It's a great shame that no one else turned up because the presentation was a very good one."

The public session was one of a series being held to garner views on proposed library cuts. Council chiefs have earmarked eight for the axe. The borough's draft budget plan lists sites in Pheasey, Streetly, Beechdale, South Walsall in Delves, and Walsall Wood for closure next year to save £565,722 to £385,092. Three others – in Blakenall, New Invention and Rushall – are down to close the following year to save £180,630 if the proposals get the go-ahead.

Today independent councillor Pete Smith, who has criticised the consultation, called the process 'a costly farce.'

He said: "This is an absolute joke – and the pitiful attendance at this meeting demonstrates that. The whole consultation process is a farce.

Leisure chief Councillor Khizar Hussain said they were 'disappointed' by the turn-out. "We felt that a Saturday morning would give people who worked during the week the chance to attend, listen to the proposals and have their say. Central Library was chosen as the most practical venue because Walsall is relatively easy to get to by public transport from all areas of the borough."

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