Fri, 29 Jul 2016
A PETITION has been launched to stop the future of the dis-trict’s libraries being decided by just 10 of West Berkshire Council’s 52 councillors.
The council is proposing to close Theale and Wash Common libraries and pass the responsibility of others on to volunteers as part of its plan to save £17.5m this year.
However, the council was advised by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport that it should first carry out an independent needs assessment to determine the impact. After three-months, this has almost con-cluded and the findings will be reported back to the council by the end of August.
Council officers will then look at the recommendations before putting forward proposals to the executive – a group of 10 councillors with extra responsibilities.
However, Sue Cocker, the chairman of the Friends of Lambourn Library steering committee, wants all councillors to be involved in the decision-making process. In the petition, which has so far been signed by 45 people, she says: “This process does not allow public scrutiny of the full needs assessment report or of the way in which the executive’s proposals (whatever they are) have been prepared.”
She adds: “Friends of Lambourn Library have therefore launched a petition asking that the full council makes the decision, which will affect all of West Berkshire.
“By debating the proposals in full council, all our West Berkshire councillors have an opportunity to participate in deciding the future of West Berkshire’s library service. Please sign our petition and make the decision-making process on such an important issue transparent, cooperative and public.”
A total of 1,500 signatures from across West Berkshire are needed for the petition to be considered.
As part of its plan to save £18.9m in 2015/16, the council originally consulted on proposals to close eight of the district’s nine libraries, leaving only Newbury open.
However, it was repeatedly challenged on whether those proposals would breach its statutory duty under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, which states that local authorities are required to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service.
The council later received £1.4m transitional funding from the Government and it used £475,000 of that to change the library proposals, which was agreed by full council on March 1, to keep seven libraries open and close two, subject to the findings of the needs assessment.
A spokeswoman for West Berkshire Council, Peta Stoddart-Crompton, said the local authority would not know whether the findings of the needs assessment would be considered by the executive or the full council until after it had been published.
To sign the petition, visit http://decisionmaking.westberks. gov.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx? id=79