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Town council hears fears that library report is being watered down

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But district council insists it only sought 'clarification';

HUNGERFORD Town Council has heard claims that a crucial report into the future of West Berkshire’s library service is being “tweaked” ahead of publication.

However, West Berkshire Council admitted that it has seen the report – which will eventually be made public – and sought “clarification...but no more than that.”

But at a recent meeting of the town council, councillor Helen Simpson told colleagues: “I’ve been told that the report is being played with before it goes to full (district) council.

“The reason it’s being tweaked, I’ve heard, is that it currently doesn’t read very well for some of the people concerned.

“It was meant to be given to all of us in its entirety before we have a meeting, which should have been scheduled before the end of August.”

The town councillor and Friends of Hungerford Library member added: “We want to see that report before it is edited.

“The Friends of Hungerford Library have a meeting coming up and this will definitely be the hot topic of conversation.”

As part of its saving plan for 2016/17, West Berkshire Council proposed to close eight of the district’s nine libraries, including those in Hungerford and Lambourn, leaving only Newbury open.

But then it announced it was using £475,000 of ‘transitional funding’ to give six of them a temporary stay of execution.

And in March, district council papers appeared to reveal why – the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told the council it would be breaching its statutory duty if it was to close the libraries without due process.

The department’s report stated: “The council will fail in its equality duty, and also statutory duty, to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act if it proceeds with a major reduction in its libraries service without due process.”

The council later received £1.4m transitional funding from the Government and used £475,000 of that to commission the RedQuadrant report and to change the library proposals.

The new proposal, which was agreed by full council on March 1, is to keep seven libraries open and close two, subject to the findings of the needs assessment report.

A spokesman for West Berkshire Council, Martin Dunscombe, said: “This is a council-commissioned report that, once complete, must cover the issues we asked to be assessed.

“To ensure that the report meets the brief set by us, we have seen a draft and asked for further clarification on some aspects of the report, but no more than that.”

He added: “The completed report is due to be provided to the council in the next few days. The library service review is due to be discussed by the executive next month and a further public consultation held in the autumn.”

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