Sat, 19 Oct 2019
NEWBURY Town Council has agreed to withhold a payment to the West Berkshire Council library service until it has answers on how the money is being used.
The town council pays an annual contribution of £31,275 to support the service.
Councillors were due to hear a report on how the library was performing at a recent policy and resources committee meeting.
But when the libraries manager for West Berkshire Council, Paul James, failed to attend, the committee decided to withhold the £7,818.75 payment until the next meeting in January.
Town council leader Martin Colston said: “We didn’t get the report that we asked for and that was part of the agreement for the quarterly payments, so the committee decided to defer the payment until the next meeting.
“I’m assuming we will get the report and answers to our questions and then in January we will approve that payment, as well as the January payment. We felt it was reasonable to get the report before making any payments.”
Funding of the district’s libraries has been a long-standing issue.
In 2015, West Berkshire Council published controversial proposals to close all of the libraries in the district, apart from Newbury.
A stay of execution was granted following a public outcry, with the council instead deciding to halve the amount of staff and call on volunteers to help keep their local libraries open.
In December 2016, West Berkshire Council wrote to all town and parish councils in the district asking for a contribution of £1 per resident – a total of £150,000.
Newbury Town Council’s then Conservative administration agreed to allocate the money, but since then the scheme has come under huge scrutiny.
Former Liberal Democrat councillor Julian Swift-Hook said at the time that it was not Newbury Town Council’s job to provide a library service for West Berkshire Council, particularly as there was no proposal to close the Newbury library.
In February last year, Martha Vickers (Lib Dem, Northcroft) said: “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.”