Southampton library closures 'halted'

Southampton library closures 'halted'

Southampton Labour Council's plans to axe six libraries in the area have been halted due to opposition from Tory councillors, reported the Southern Daily Echo.

The plans for the council to stop running Millbook, Weston, Thornhill, Cobbett Road and Burgess Road libraries and end the mobile service next April will now be put under further scrutiny, according to the local newspaper.

Conservative opposition councillors argued there has not been enough information provided about whether community groups and volunteers will come forward to run the six libraries and therefore the decision to stop running the libraries must be further investigated.

Although Labour council chiefs have insisted they are “confident” groups will come forward to run the facilities, the plans must be halted until they are further scrutinised.

Labour councillor Simon Letts stressed that the decision was not to shut the libraries, but to allow them to be taken over and kept open by other groups. However, the opposition have said not enough information has been provided about who these groups will be.

Following the chairman of the council’s overview and scrutiny management committee’s move to call the decision in, this issue will be subject to more debate, meaning that it will have to go back before the committee and be approved again by the cabinet.

Conservative deputy leader Dan Fitzhenry said: “The reason we are doing it is we don’t think there has been sufficient acknowledgement of what the replacement service will be and there hasn’t been sufficient information on that.”

He added: “It’s almost as though they are saying ‘we’re going to shut them and hope someone will come along to run them.’ We fundamentally disagree with the decision and we wouldn’t be doing it.”

Labour’s cabinet member for leisure, Satvir Kaur, said: “I’m happy for it to be called in, all members including the opposition have a right to scrutinise it and if they want to scrutinise it further that’s fine, it’s part of the democratic process.”

Last week The Bookseller reported that Conservative MP Royston Smith accused the council of "political point scoring" over its decision to close the libraries. He said: "Instead of looking for solutions, the Labour Council are content to axe this well used community facility to make a political point at the expense of my constituents.”

However, Kaur said in response: "It is not political point scoring, it is stating facts. The facts are we have had a lot of cuts under this Tory government. We are already looking to make £90m in savings and (the Chancellor) George Osborne is making 40% further cuts which is absolutely huge, so changes have to be made. It is really important that residents see this in that context.”