Express & Star

'Completely undemocratic’: Cost-cutting self-service library plan backed

Controversial plans to reduce opening hours and introduce more self-service libraries have been approved by councillors – but campaigners called it a ‘bad day for democracy.’

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Claire Geoghegan, left, is joined by members of the Friends of Penkridge Library

The changes, which come after months of public consultation, will allow community groups to manage four Staffordshire libraries, as well as putting Cheslyn Hay Library at risk of closure, in an effort to save £1.3 million.

Cheadle, Clayton, Eccleshall and Penkridge libraries will now follow the same path as 22 of Staffordshire’s 43 libraries that are already community managed.

Staffordshire County Council says the plans will give approved groups the management of the day-to-day running of the library, whilst the council will continue to fund utility bills and maintenance costs.

Community approach 'can be a success'

Gill Heath, the council’s cabinet member for communities, said: “We know from the experience of recent years the enthusiasm, energy and ideas of the management groups, combined with the comprehensive support we provide, has made the community-managed approach a success.

“The way many people read for pleasure has changed for good and the way they use libraries has changed too.

“We are working hard with communities to meet that challenge by allowing libraries to evolve and expand on their core service by providing whatever management groups think is needed locally.”

Penkridge library is set to be community managed as part of the plans

The plan proposed by Councillor Heath was not met by any opposition during the meeting with a number of councillors openly supporting the scheme.

Mark Sutton, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Children and Young People, said: “I offer my complete support. We need our libraries to be flexible and adaptive to the times.”

Following the meeting, a small number of protesters from the Friends of Penkridge Library – supported by Penkridge Parish Councillor Bevan Craddock – community group hit out at the plans.

A 'bad day for democracy'

Claire Geoghegan, a member of the friends group, said: “We’ve tried to work with the council throughout the consultation but we’ve found a complete lack of willingness from them to talk to communities. Penkridge library is not suitable to be community managed.

“We were told the local voice would remain a priority but we’ve been completely ignored.

“This is a bad day for democracy. It’s a totally undemocratic decision that will upset a lot of people in Penkridge.

“Our community continues to grow with more residential homes planned to be built in the area. Some of the figures the council has used are fundamentally flawed, they have not taken everyone into consideration.

“Staffordshire County Council has made no efforts to work with the local parish council or interested groups or to respect local opinion, yet they remain absolute in contributing nothing to improving the building they have deemed unfit for community management, whilst simultaneously proposing this change.

“We believe by working jointly with the local council and community groups, a more cost-effective solution can be found that will benefit Penkridge for the long term.”