The council withdrew funding for five Southampton libraries, including Cobbett Road, at a cabinet meeting on August 18. Read on for our full meeting roundup, including exclusive footage from the meeting and of the vote, and reaction from the Friends of Cobbett Road Library afterwards.
Video: response after the decision from Friends of Cobbett Road Library
“I will keep repeating this until I'm blue in the face: we are not closing libraries tonight. We are seeking to re-establish them as community run libraries. If they close it is because there is no capacity in the city to come forward and help run them,” said Leader of Southampton City Council Simon Letts (Lab) at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (Aug 18) which later unanimously passed a motion to withdraw council funding for five branches including Cobbett Road from April next year.
Throughout the meeting Labour councillors Letts and Kaur, cabinet member for communities, culture and leisure, alluded to parties they had so far been unable to name, which they said had expressed an interest in running libraries during the consultation process.
They suggested they were confident that “packages” would be in place by next April's deadline to keep threatened libraries running – “even with the potential for extended hours”.
Former Conservative Bitterne Park councillor Peter Baillie, pictured left in 2011, hit out at the Labour group, saying: “This is not about cuts. This is not about money. This is their political choice. If they really wished to find the money, they could find the money.
“Their political choice has been to oversee, sadly, one of the most convoluted and bungling attempts at implementing a plan that I've ever come across.”
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And in a powerful speech, Burgess Road Library user Sarah Dockree said that the council had ignored the evidence in front of them, was using “clever language” about “not closing libraries”, and that evidence showed many now voluntary-run libraries up and down the country wanted nothing better than to return to local authority control.
“It really frustrates me that the people who will be most hit by this decision are the people who are least likely to be here today to be able to give their voice,” she said.
'Why one and a half miles?'
“I would like to hear answers... about why one and a half miles is so oft cited as being a reason why it's OK if it was to come to the point where library services were 'not available in the current buildings'.
“I myself have struggled to see how that can be the case even locally to us, and even as a mum who has access to a car, when I had twin toddlers I would not have been doing a three-mile round trip to go to the library. I have the luxury of being able to think I might buy books instead; there are many who don't have that luxury.”
Video: Speech from Burgess Road Library user Sarah Dockree
Summing up the debate, Cllr Letts said the council's financial settlement for the next financial year means it will have to reduce budgets of the city council by £40m.
“That is 160 times the amount that is being proposed this evening in terms of reductions to the library service. That situation is daunting.”
And he slammed his political opponents, saying:
“It's a bit hypocritical... of the Conservatives to come here, make a massive fuss about something they think will be electorally popular for them, and then support a government programme of vicious cuts to Southampton and similar urban local authorities.”
Video: Summing up the debate and the vote
Bitterne Park councillor John Inglis (Con) said after the meeting that it was hard to react without more information.
Speaking about approaches to run the threatened libraries reported to have been made during the consultation, Cllr Inglis said: “I find it hard to believe that anyone would want to run five libraries with no money involved. Who is the person who is going to be supporting and financing that? ”
And Burgess Road Library Buddies described the decision as “shameful”: “It's a difficult time. A sad day” they wrote on their Facebook page, where comments flowed from a number of library users.
“How can the government give every MP (Member of Parliament) £10.000/year pay rise and close HALF of the libraries in Southampton due to cuts???” was one, from Jafar Vandenberghe, while Rebecca Smith wrote: “Yes, shameful. I am appalled.”
'Bleak future' for Cobbett Road Library
Speaking after the meeting, Kevin Lancashire, Friends of Cobbett Road Library chair, said that he thought the council hadn't started from a position of looking at how to keep libraries open.
“It's very frustrating that the arguments that we've put over the last 12 or 18 months have been virtually ignored,” he told bitternepark.info.
Looking to the future, he said he'd have to go back to the Friends group, which is due to convene at the weekend, but the consensus was that they didn't want to run it voluntarily, and it was a very bleak future.
But the Friends' door is always open, said Kevin Lancashire.
You can see his interview below as well as at the start of the piece.
• You can read the Friends' write up of the meeting on their website at http://www.cobbettroad.info/save-your-library.html