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Councillors urged to 'put communities first' and vote down library budget cuts

PUBLISHED: 14:48 07 February 2017 | UPDATED: 14:48 07 February 2017

Woodbridge Library

Woodbridge Library

A petition against cuts to library funding has been signed by a thousand people in eight days.

Woodbridge county councillor Caroline Page (right) collects signatures for a petition agains library funding cuts with Emma Greenhouse (centre) and Sally BullWoodbridge county councillor Caroline Page (right) collects signatures for a petition agains library funding cuts with Emma Greenhouse (centre) and Sally Bull

Woodbridge county councillor Caroline Page will take the signatures to Endeavour House in protest of potential Suffolk-wide budget reductions.

A thousand adults, including a 101-year-old lifelong library user, have added their names to the document ahead of the council budget being debated on Thursday, February 9.

Ms Page said: “People are extraordinarily exercised about this matter.

“This is a significant number of signatures, collected over eight days in a town of 7,500 voters – not including a large number of younger users.

“I’ll be taking this petition to the council and quoting from the more repeatable comments. I hope councillors will put their communities first. If they don’t, their communities should think long and hard about who they elect.”

Since 2012, the day-to-day running of 44 libraries has been conducted by independent provident society, Suffolk Libraries, with the county council remaining the main source of funding. Budgets have since been cut by almost a third – and Suffolk Libraries could face a further £230,000 reduction in 2017/18.

Ms Page said the council distanced itself from the issue when Suffolk Libraries became separate organisation, and should consider dipping into its £150m budget reserve to avoid making reductions.

“By being one stage removed, the county council can say ‘it’s nothing to do with us’ – but it jolly well is,” she said.

“No one understands better than me that you need a reserve for a rainy day – but when you’ve managed to build up £150m, it’s time to use it.

“The council knows the cost but don’t recognise the value. If it was strategic, it would look at the cost of what is being provided against the financial impact of not providing it.”

Under proposals, the library budget would fall to £5.91m – but bosses have committed to not closing any libraries, or reducing opening hours.

Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council’s head of finance, said: “Only £48million of our reserves are available to cover budget shortfalls – our budget expenditure next year is close to £480million. The rest is pre-allocated to a variety of uses, including building new schools, road improvements and the two river crossings in Ipswich and Lowestoft.

“I’m proud of the service provided by Suffolk Libraries and a decision on the budget will be made at the County Council meeting this Thursday.”

Woodbridge county councillor Caroline Page’s ‘ten reasons to fight for Suffolk Libraries’:

“Suffolk Libraries are invaluable because they:

• provide friendly, welcoming, and helpful facilities for recreation and study that reflect the changing needs of local people

• support study for students of all ages – and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds

• provide materials for people’s leisure-learning and hobbies, enhancing and maintaining their growth and mental health

• provide a centre for social activities and clubs of many types which enhances community cohesion

• introduce our children to the lifetime pleasures of reading

• provide a place for quiet study, and particularly for those who don’t enjoy such facilities at home

• provide a source of reference material in both physical and on-line formats

• are a key resource for the unemployed to help support them back into employment

• provide internet access for people who can’t afford such equipment, or don’t have the space to accommodate it, or only have occasional need or just need help with the processes

• provide mobile libraries to ensure a library service can be maintained in low-population-density rural areas”

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