Sunday, 31 July 2011

Libraries Review In Disarray As Trust Conversion Flops

Cambridgeshire Lib Dems have criticised a glaring oversight in the Conservative administration's plans for the county’s libraries, which means the Libraries Review has to be completely rebooted.

The Conservatives initially planned to make savings of up to £1M by converting the libraries to “Trust status”.  This would have made the libraries eligible for dramatically reduced business rates to central government and was the core of the council's plan to make savings.

However, forthcoming changes to taxation, which would see local government keeping the majority of business rates, mean that the Trust idea simply would not work any more.  Savings made by converting to Trust status would result in the council’s income from business rates being reduced by the same amount - a zero sum game, with no savings possible.

The Liberal Democrats are concerned that the same savings will now have to be made in other ways, despite the idea on which the libraries budget was based being dead in the water.  They are worried that this will put further libraries and jobs at risk.

Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet Member for Libraries, Sarah Whitebread said:

“It is alarming that the Conservatives did not put two and two together on this sooner. The big worry now is that the Conservatives will insist on making the savings they planned for when they passed their unrealistic budget in February.

“Today I call upon Council Leader Nick Clarke to take personal charge of the situation and prevent the disaster we can see is coming by working with the dedicated hard-working staff that form the core of the library service and make sure the people of Cambridgeshire aren’t short-changed."

County Councillor Kevin Wilkins, whose local library is threatened, said:

“The value local libraries like Milton Road bring to our communities is far, far greater than the small sums it costs to run them. Closing libraries cannot be the answer to the county’s self-inflicted financial crisis.”