Save Our Derbyshire Libraries

Derbyshire County Council plans to cut spending on its library service have generated a lot of interest. Like most people I don’t like to see politicians trading insults, but I will not be quiet if someone chooses to insult me for asking the questions that my constituents are asking me.

The Council’s plans have now been called in by the Labour and LibDem opposition groups for closer scrutiny, which will delay the start of the consultation.

This is my full statement following Cllr Lewis’s comments at the full council on Wednesday 11 April.

“I would urge Cllr Lewis to consider his words more wisely.

“He may not like what I have said, but I have been completely open and honest about the future of Derbyshire’s libraries.

“The consultation document states that funding for 20 of the county’s libraries will be cut, rapidly reduced and ends after four years. There is an expectation that community groups will take them over, but nothing is said about what happens if no groups come forward or if they cannot sustain their support, especially with no funding. There are no other options in the consultation.

“The implication is clear: libraries will have to close if community groups aren’t prepared to take on the burden of admin and opening hours.

“There is nothing in the Council paper about what will happen if the community model fails and this is what I have asked.

“If Cllr Lewis has an alternative plan, he needs to share it with Derbyshire residents, as part of the consultation.

“Simply insulting me and claiming I am dishonest for asking the questions that my constituents are asking me makes it seem that Cllr Lewis either can’t answer or won’t answer – how else he is proposing to keep libraries open?

“Derbyshire residents and particularly the staff who work in our libraries need to know the answer. Childish insults don’t cut the mustard with me or with Derbyshire residents. It’s water off a duck’s back to me but Cllr Lewis needs to show residents and Council staff more respect.”

This followed an earlier exchange of views, as follows, starting with my statement on the future of Derbyshire libraries:

I welcome Cllr Lewis’ (Tory Leader of Derbyshire County Council) guarantee that no Derbyshire libraries will close and I am delighted that the campaign to save our libraries has met with such immediate success.

However, it does now raise three important questions:

1. If no volunteers are able to staff our libraries, how will DCC guarantee that they will remain open, both now and in future, when the county council grant to these libraries has been reduced to zero?

2. If our libraries are all staying open, will the council also guarantee the jobs of our professional library staff who are the only people who can genuinely deliver on such a guarantee?

3. And if there are other possible options, why are they not in the consultation?

These comments were a response to the following statement from Derbyshire Tories, which I publish in full and unedited.

“Yesterday Derbyshire Conservative leader Barry Lewis challenged Labour High Peak MP Ruth George to retract her misleading statement attached to her petition wording to get a debate in council on libraries. In it she states that if no groups come forwards to run libraries that they would close. Derbyshire Conservatives have been unequivocal: NO DERBYSHIRE LIBRARY WILL CLOSE. Cllr Lewis says he will guarantee a debate on libraries but threw down the gauntlet for Ruth to retract the misleading statement.

It however fits a pattern of misleading statements by senior local Labour figures over the last few days claiming Labour investment in libraries, such as the new Glossop Library (to open shortly) and the promised replacement Belper Library.

They conveniently forget that both of these libraries were Derbyshire Conservative commitments prior to 2013, including setting aside £2million for a new Glossop Library due to open in weeks.

Indeed Labour went on to mislead Glossop residents in 2014 after promising they would deliver a library in the much loved Victoria Hall, instead choosing Talbot Street – citing spiralling costs – an issue that Conservatives prior to 2013 were clear about. Only Labour has a history of cuts in Derbyshire libraries, including controversial closures in the 1990s and in recent years cutting mobile library services to the bone.

Our plans are to seek groups to come forward and deliver a better mobile library service. Derbyshire Conservatives will leave no stone unturned in our consultation to ensure our libraries are secured for the future and fit for purpose.”