THE Conservative-run West Berkshire Council has been accused of using its Tory colleagues on Newbury Town Council to help “prop up” its statutory services.
Liberal Democrats on the town council made the claim as councillors approved the budget for 2018/19, including a £31,000 contribution for the West Berkshire library service.
Parishes across the district have been asked to make a financial contribution to the libraries over a three-year period after West Berkshire slashed funding in 2017.
The funding cuts resulted in a number of changes to the service, including redundancies across the district while one library, Wash Common Library, was closed down completely.
At a meeting of the full town council last Monday evening, the Lib Dem group opposed the £31,000 funding allocation in the town council’s budget, saying the responsibility of running the libraries lay with West Berkshire Council.
Martha Vickers (Lib Dem, Northcroft) said: “This council should not be propping up West Berkshire Council.
“Newbury residents pay a precept for the services in the town, in addition to this they pay council tax to West Berkshire Council.
“We all value the library service, but the library is the responsibility of West Berkshire Council and it should be paid for by West Berkshire Council.”
Julian Swift-Hook (Lib Dem, Pyle Hill) added: “I’m interested to know how many parish councils have been asked to contribute.”
Referring to Greenham Parish Council, which is largely made up of Liberal Democrat party members, he added: “I know of at least one, not a million miles away from this council, that has not been asked.
“I’m really concerned that this is about leveraging the co-operation of a Conservative-run town council to support a Conservative-run district council to help run the library service.”
Lib Dem councillors suggested the money could be better used to fund the Citizens Advice West Berkshire service, which has seen significant reductions in its funding and could be facing another £80,000 funding cut next year.
Tory town councillors had themselves been considering whether to commit the £31,000 library funding in 2018/19 after raising concerns over how last year’s money had been spent by West Berkshire.
However, a presentation from West Berkshire Council’s culture and libraries manager Paul James offered reassurance to councillors that the money had been essential in covering the running costs of Newbury library.
Mr James also confirmed to councillors that their contribution would be ring-fenced to be spent only on Newbury library.
Despite the library contribution, there will be no increase to the town precept.
Town council spending in 2018/19 will also include £12,000 for the Christmas lights, £6,000 for maintenance and upkeep to the town hall, and £2,000 for the visitor information service to be moved to the museum and library.
Tony Stretton (Con, Clay Hill) said: “I never thought I’d see the day where the toilets in The Wharf had to be looked after. I never thought I’d see the day where the Visitor Information Centre would be an issue, but they are.
“We’ve stood up to the test and we should be applauded for that and I think the people of Newbury will applaud us for that.”
Council leader Adrian Edwards (Con, Falkland) concluded the debate, saying: “We have to think how are we going to improve the lot of people in Newbury, and I think this budget and all the work we do has enhanced the town and I hope the residents of Newbury will appreciate we are doing our best under very strained circumstances.”
The majority Conservative group voted unanimously to pass the budget, while the Lib Dem members voted against.
The budget was therefore approved.