As flowers spread across our parks and gardens, we all feel a bit brighter. But proposals before Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet meeting next week are enough to dampen even the sunniest spirits as a huge round of further cuts are planned.
Libraries across the county, including Buxton and Chapel will cut their opening hours. Hayfield, Whaley Bridge, Gamesley and Hadfield are among the 20 libraries proposed for transfer to ‘community management’ – to be run by volunteers.
These libraries will receive a rapidly-decreasing grant for 4 years, after which they will rely solely on the goodwill and organisation of local residents, or they will close.
My boys and I have always loved our local library at Chapel. They spend ages choosing piles of stories, picture books and rail encyclopaedias that broaden their imagination beyond the books I would think or afford to buy.
It’s the same for many families, and our excellent libraries offer a vital service – the regular trip to swap books gets many isolated people out of their homes for a friendly chat as well as a good read.
And the computers at libraries are a godsend to people who can’t afford the high cost of the internet. . Gamesley Library has some of the highest computer use in the county, as so many people need them.
More and more services are online nowadays so computer access is vital for most of us. From September, Universal Credit will come to High Peak and thousands of people on low incomes will have to claim online over the next few years, so this will affect those least well off the most.
Subsidised bus services are also being cut, mostly on Sundays and bank holidays, where either fares will rise or services end. Most changes are around Buxton – there’s a full list on my website.
Even the Chesterfield Sunday service is affected, so families with loved ones at hospital in Chesterfield following the closure of Spencer Ward, will not be able to visit on Sundays if they need public transport.
These cuts are on top of the £5m cut to social care and £3m less for Children’s Services.
Yes, our Council Tax has just risen 5% – an extra £60 a year for an average house, with an even higher increase assumed next year. But the government grant to councils is reducing by far more than Council Tax hikes, so the County Council are making an extra £80m of cuts over the next 5 years.
We are all paying more for less services. Our libraries, buses, schools and elderly are bearing the brunt of austerity, whilst companies with profits of over £1.5m have seen their tax bills almost halved.
That is a political choice, and to me it’s the wrong one. That’s why I’ll be fighting the cuts, but also fighting the policy choices that have led to those cuts.