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Thatcham library funding decision on hold

Town council delays committing to £24,480 spend until budget has been set

Thatcham resident's views to be sought on future of town library

THATCHAM Town Council has delayed committing almost £25,000 to supporting the town library until it has set its own budget. 

West Berkshire Council has asked town and parish councils across the district to contribute £150,000 to make up a shortfall in funding to the library service.

Thatcham has been asked to cough up £24,480 – nearly a sixth of that figure – to help keep the service going.

Town councillors were told at last week’s meeting that they and Newbury could be trailblazers for other parishes to follow suit.

Faced with its own financial pressures, however, town councillors said they couldn’t commit the cash until they knew the full extent of the budget.

Culture manager at West Berkshire Council, Paul James, said that the council would have to “trim the service back further” if it did not receive parish funding.

Councillor for culture Dominic Boeck (Con, Aldermaston), who also sits on Thatcham Town Council, added that there would be “no white knight coming to rescue” the council with additional funding. 

“We really hope that Thatcham and Newbury can lead the charge,” he said. “Without Thatcham and Newbury things really start to look quite precarious.”

But Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) questioned what gain the town council would get, saying that the district council would benefit more.

“It’s the same sleight of hand everywhere,” he said. “All the savings you get will be for West Berkshire Council and not Thatcham Town Council. We will end up paying 60 per cent of the costs.”

Mr James told councillors that the town would keep its library service, but, more importantly, it would have a say over how it was run.

The answer failed to address councillors’ questions, with Mr Brooks asking: “How much say will we have on running the library on a day-to-day service when it’s West Berkshire Council’s statutory duty?

“What are we getting for £25,000 of Thatcham’s tax payers’ money?”

The questions were backed up by Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North), who said: “They shouldn’t have to pay more for a service they already have.

“This is five per cent of the precept, this is not a small amount. You are asking us to spend £25,000 without knowing what we are getting for it.”

Mr Brooks asked whether the town council had looked at taking over the library and buying in some services.

Mr Boeck said that one size would not fit all and that the library service would have to be tailored to communities.

Town clerk Mel Alexander said that there were budget pressures and that any spend could involve finding savings elsewhere. However, she advised councillors that it would be unwise to commit reserves to an ongoing expense.

The town council had set aside £17,000 to help fund CCTV cameras in the town that were switched off in April 2016, when West Berkshire Council pulled the funding.

Steve Ardagh-Walter (Con, Thatcham West) suggested donating the money towards the library, saying: “It’s not ideal to have a large chunk of money leaving Thatcham but I do think it’s the right thing to do.”

Mr Brooks said it would be totally inadvisable for the town council to commit five per cent of its precept before assessing the wider impact on the budget.

Town council leader Jason Collis (Con, Thatcham North) agreed, saying that, while there was support for the library, the town council couldn’t commit concrete figures until it had discussed its budget on Monday, January 23.

Councillors also heard that the town mayor Ellen Crumly and her husband Richard had put themselves forward as volunteers to help run Thatcham Library.

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