NEWBURY Town Council looks set to pay more than £30,000 towards the cost of running West Berkshire’s libraries.
However, the move will not mean an increase in the council tax precept – the amount of money the town council collects from residents – according to its draft budget for 2017/18.
In December 2016, West Berkshire Council wrote to every town and parish council in the district asking them to make a contribution of around £1 per resident – a total of £150,000 – to help fund the library service.
The district council is currently considering three different options, which include replacing staff with volunteers at all libraries except Newbury, as it looks to save up to £645,000.
The town's Conservative councillors voted in favour of allocating £31,275 from next year’s budget – a move which drew heavy criticism from the Liberal Democrats since the Newbury's library itself is not one which has been threatened with closure.
At the meeting of Newbury Town Council’s policy and resources committee, Julian Swift-Hook (Lib Dem, Pyle Hill) asked exactly how Newbury residents would benefit.
He said: “We are Newbury Town Council, we are not West Berkshire Council.
“It’s not our job to provide a library service any more than it is our job to provide a housing service.
“We should be looking at what is the benefit for the residents of Newbury.”
He added: “There’s no proposal to close the library [in Newbury] so it’s not as if that service is under threat.”
However, Adrian Edwards (Con, Falkland) argued: “When this town council was formed years ago, we took over all sorts of services that the district council did.
“The allotments, the cemeteries and things like that. Things change.”
Despite Mr Edwards’ comments, Mr Swift-Hook proposed to have the funding removed from the budget, saying: “The key point we have heard is that the funding is not proposed to affect our library here in Newbury.”
The proposal, however, was swiftly voted down by the Conservatives.
The exchange came during a heated debate over the draft budget for 2017/18 which saw political tempers flare over a number of issues, with Lib Dem councillors proposing to increase funding for services such as Citizens Advice and the Mabel Luke Almshouses charity.
However, when Martha Vickers (Lib Dem, Northcroft) proposed to supply £3,569 for outreach youth workers at the Waterside Café and the YMCA Tony Stretton (Con, Clay Hill) snapped: “I appreciate that councillor Vickers is trying to get this in the budget with all her might with the backing of her colleagues, but not so long ago the Lib Dem party were happy to sit there and slash funding for wardens and the CAB so they could have a fountain.
“When we said we need these things they sat there blank-faced – it’s ridiculous.”
The Conservatives’ draft budget was ultimately voted through.
However, despite the increase in spending on the libraries, the council has said there will be no increase to the precept for Newbury residents due to savings made elsewhere.
The draft budget will now be ratified at a full council meeting on January 30.