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Committee Votes Against Closure Of Three Wrexham Libraries

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Thursday, Nov 14th, 2013.

Yesterday Councillors voted against a recommendation to close three of Wrexham’s libraries, opting instead for a recommendation of reducing opening hours.

The Homes, Environment & Communities Scrutiny Committee met yesterday afternoon to discuss the future of three of Wrexham’s libraries.

Councillor Hugh Jones, who was not present at today’s meeting had provided a second recommendation to go alongside the original recommendation of closing libraries in Brymbo, Gresford and Rhos.

The revised recommendation stated: “In order to achieve the required saving of £92,000, it is recommended that this Committee choose between the following two options, which would have been subject to consultation. The first close Brymbo and Gresford with a 19% reduction in other libraries. The second option is the original recommendation of the original three libraries closing from 1st April 2014.”

However the Committee instead voted in favour of an amended recommendation from Councillor Alun Jenkins, which opted for a reduction of opening hours across libraries in Wrexham by 26%. Along with an investigation into the use of community hubs as a method of housing local libraries.

However the amended recommendation does not guarantee the safety of the three libraries tipped for closure, as it will have to be approved by the Executive Board when they meet in January.

The two hour-long meeting itself was well attended, with the ‘public gallery’ full of schoolchildren and supporters of Rhos library. The meeting’s agenda has received a great deal of attention since it was announced earlier this week that the three libraries faced closure. Prior to the start of the meeting, the Rhos supporters held a protest outside the Guildhall, holding banners saying ‘Save our library’.

Head of Community Well-being and Development Lawrence Isted said: “To give context, in position to make substantial cuts we are looking for £14m next year. We are half a million short of that for next year. We’re trying to find cuts wherever we can and are asking you to look at reducing number of libraries or hours of the libraries to make that saving.

“We considered lots of things, such as closing libraries and providing mobile coverage. However there is no scientific process that leads to an answer. The essential point is we would not close a single one, we would build new ones. we have to come up with a methodology.

“Shooting down all suggestions will not help us. If the answer from the Committee is that we can’t make the saving, it will have to be made somewhere else. It is necessary to achieve the saving.”

A spokesperson for Rhos library addressed the Committee about the role the library plays in the community, saying: “It is an integral part of community, so much goes on in the building. There are a Welsh and English Mother and Toddler group, a book club and a reading club.

“I do feel in view of the fact there was something in a paper that Wales are behind England in numeracy and literacy that this is really sad. I know we need to make cuts, but would be grateful if you could get your heads together and help us.”

Adding support to Rhos library, one Councillor added that they have had eight emails and letters against the closure of Rhos library. One of which includes a petition of 24 names.

Councillor Paul Pemberton added: “Rhos library has 33,000 visitors, which is now down to 31,000. I feel this is more of an issue of quality, Rhos don’t just do books. If we lose this valuable asset it will cut out the heart of the community. One man said he would chain himself to a door if it were to close.I think this is totally out-of-order, the nearest library is Ruabon. Anyone who wants to use one from Rhos or Penycae will have to go looking for a way to get there.”

Councillor John Phillips added that it would be a ‘travesty for this to be lost for young and old’. Calling the suggestion to close Rhos library as ‘totally unacceptable’.

Officer Isted said: “As I mentioned at beginning, we didn’t spend time creating them (libraries) to close them. The key issue is the saving has to be made. The alternative solution would be to not make the saving. We would like to make a case where there aren’t any cuts, but we have to achieve £92,0000.

“If we only get a quarter of it, then we have to make the rest of money elsewhere. This is the rock and the hard place.”

One possible alternative that was offered by members of the Committee was the possibility of volunteer run libraries with Chairman David Kelly saying: “There are 170 volunteer libraries in the UK and only a handful are in Wales. Buckinghamshire have 14 volunteer libraries and only nine Council run.

“There may be a way forward, some volunteer libraries have failed. It’s like Community Centre issue, it’s too much too quick, we need the time to explore these issues.”

However one officer added: “Professional advice is to see the actual pattern of opening hours and we need to find times relevant to local community. Yes volunteer run libraries are being introduced, they represent 1% of libraries, but it has a place to play how we can enhance the service. We want to correct that impression we can do everything through volunteers.”

Councillor for Brymbo, Paul Rogers said: “In Brymbo library the report states usage has declined, but has steadily increased to what it was 10 years ago. In last three years usage has almost doubled, particularly the ICT facilities. The library is the heart of what is now a Community First Area.

“My preferred option is to see all libraries in Wrexham treated equally. We need to discuss homing service and mobile provision. am sure many stops a mobile library uses that doesn’t have many users, which could save money. some authorities have scrapped the mobile one completely. but think service should be reviewed,

“Some of this information could be premature and we could be forced to review it again. I want to go back to recommendation made earlier this year. The Committee said they do not want to close libraries unless a more cost-effective solution can be found. This is the case in Brymbo. As it is the lead members recommendation, you’d expect him to be here to justify his recommendation.”

Councillor David. A Bithell spoke about how the ‘cuts will impact significantly on all parts of the community’, and commented on how this discussion was taking place the day after the Executive Board passed their initial proposals.

Cllr Bithell said: “I didn’t vote for the recommendations at the Executive Board yesterday, there were some drastic cuts associated yesterday. I find it disappointing that the Lead Member for the Committee is not here today, and he can’t be held to account.

“At the end of the say its his recommendation and how can we hold him in account when he’s not here to justify himself? At the Executive Board yesterday we agreed to close three libraries, but the scrutiny committee is the day after. this was all outlined yesterday and members of the council have not had the time to debate these issues fully.

Cllr Bithell also provided an alternative way to save the money needed, adding: “Reshaping services is a report given yesterday and it was a report that is reshaping from the bottom up. We should be reshaping services from top to bottom.”

The comments were met with agreement from many across the board and a small applause from the public gallery.

Officer Isted said: “With regards to Senior Managers having the chop, I would remind members only two years ago we reduced numbers from 14 to 9. This could happen again.”

The proximity of the nearest libraries was also raised, with Councillor’s pointing out that if their local library closes, it would not be that simple to visit the nearest alternative.

Councillor of Gresford East and West, Andrew Bailey said: As a father of two English graduates, I do value libraries. In the report you say Llay is a convenient solution, I call it a Sat Nav method. There is no direct bus route from Llay to Gresford.”

Cllr Rogers said: “I have concerns about what closure might do to the urban part of area. There are poor public transport links to Brynteg and I wouldn’t expect residents to travel using them. I think it should be looked at with Wrexham library’s opening hours. It shouldn’t be sacred cow and be protected.”

Councillor Joan Lowe echoed Cllr Bailey’s concerns regarding the distance between libraries, saying: “When the officer presented his report and he said looking at closures and looked at circumference of a 2 mile radius, was public transport ever looked at? From my ward two buses would be needed, travelling seven miles to main library would be easier.”

Replying to issues raised regarding proximity to the nearest library, Lawrence Isted said: “With proximity we didn’t look at public transport. But there is emphasis on the role of Wrexham library serving in the county borough.”

Councillor David. A Bithell spoke about how the ‘cuts will impact significantly on all parts of the community’, and commented on how this discussion was taking place the day after the Executive Board passed their initial proposals.

Cllr Bithell said: “I didn’t vote for the recommendations at the Executive Board yesterday, there were some drastic cuts associated yesterday. I find it disappointing that the Lead Member for the Committee is not here today, and he can’t be held to account.

“At the end of the say its his recommendation and how can we hold him in account when he’s not here to justify himself? At the Executive Board yesterday we agreed to close three libraries, but the scrutiny committee is the day after. this was all outlined yesterday and members of the council have not had the time to debate these issues fully.

Cllr Bithell also provided an alternative way to save the money needed, adding: “Reshaping services is a report given yesterday and it was a report that is reshaping from the bottom up. We should be reshaping services from top to bottom.”

The comments were met with agreement from many across the board and a small applause from the public gallery.

Officer Isted said: “With regard to Senior Managers having the chop, would remind members only 2 years ago we reduced numbers from 14 to 9. could happen again.

The proximity of the nearest libraries was also raised, with Councillor’s pointing out that if their local library closes, it would not be that simple to visit the nearest alternative.

Councillor of Gresford East and West, Andrew Bailey said: As a father of two English graduates, I do value libraries. In the report you say Llay is a convenient solution, I call it a Sat Nav method. There is no direct bus route from Llay to Gresford.”

Councillor Joan Lowe echoed Cllr Bailey’s concerns regarding the distance between libraries, saying: “When the officer presented his report and he said looking at closures and looked at circumference of a 2 mile radius, was public transport ever looked at? From my ward two buses would be needed, travelling seven miles to main library would be easier.”

Replying to issues raised regarding proximity to the nearest library, Lawrence Isted said: “With proximity we didn’t look at public transport. But there is emphasis on the role of Wrexham library serving in the county borough.”

Another alternative that was suggested was to give the Wrexham library to Coleg Cambria or Glyndwr, however Officer Isted pointed out that this does not make the savings, as they generally request the budget that is already being spent on the libraries.

Cllr Alun Jenkins said: “The savings have to be done but I’m very saddened the recommendation has come in that three libraries should be closed, as it’s one ward against another. if you start from point of view we need to save money, then the first target should be to find internal situations. not closing public services,

“I’m saddened one of the first things to come in is to close front line services. I stick by the principals we said in February and we tried to find the savings in a different way. We are likely to reduce standards, which is of less importance.

“We need to keep library network we have together as it might never be reopened. Once a facility has gone it will be difficult to restore them. We won’t be able to look back and need to do our damndness. You mention a two-mile radius, it might not be far for some people, but for a school child who goes round the corner, are we expecting them to travel two miles? Use by young people will be diminished.”

“I’m going to move now we do not support closure, reducing hours spreads the hours fairly. We have not met library standards for years and have never been penalised by the assembly.”

Cllr Jenkins offered an amendment to the initial recommendations in the agenda, which focused on a 26% reduction in opening hours across all libraries. Along with an investigation by officers into alternatives that could be provided in Community hubs.

The amendment was seconded by Cllr Rogers, and the Committee voted in favour of presenting the revised recommendation to the Executive Board at the start of 2014.

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