WEST Berkshire Council has hit back at claims that it has already made a decision about the future of its libraries.
As previously reported in the Newbury Weekly News, the council is proposing to close eight of the district’s nine libraries as part of its second phase of cuts to public services.
Two weeks ago, the district council held a behind-closed-doors meeting with representatives of the parishes whose libraries are under threat.
In a letter published in this week’s NWN, anti-cuts campaigner Carolyne Culver says: “According to report backs from the meeting, parish councillors were advised to form resident charitable trusts to take control of the running of their libraries.
“This is despite the fact that the formal West Berkshire Council public consultation about proposed library closures still had one week to run. This exposes the consultation as a sham.”
The council vehemently denied those claims and said the option of charitable trusts was “simply an example of how a parish council or other community group might consider running their own library if the option to do so came about”.
It added: “We strongly disagree with any suggestion the consultation has been a sham.”
Ms Culver’s letter adds: “Representatives of the residents’ campaigns to prevent library closures were not invited, and neither were parish councillors or residents from areas that use the mobile libraries.
“Councillor Hilary Cole’s [who set up the meeting] excuse was that this would be ‘unwieldy and unproductive’.”
The council said the invite was narrowed to “ensure a manageable discussion”.
Councillor Cole added: “Since we began our consultation we’ve always been clear that we want to work with our communities to explore with them new ways in which we might deliver a range of services currently offered by the council.
“Last week I met with town and parish councils to try and get a better idea about how much interest they have in running their local library and different ways that might be achieved.
“It was our opportunity for us to explore together some different ideas for the future but no decisions were made.”
The final decision on whether to close libraries will be made on March 24.