Libraries sell off plan to be reviewedBy Caroline Cook
October 04, 2011
Controversial plans to put the management of the borough’s libraries out to tender will be reviewed in a full council debate after a petition with 2,374 signatures opposing the decision was handed to the council.
In June Wokingham Borough Council’s executive committee approved plans to tender for a private company to take over the running of the borough’s 10 libraries in a bid to save £170,000.
But a petition against the move which was launched by Liberal Democrats Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey and Anthony Vick in June, has collected more than the 1,500 signatures, meaning the council will be forced to hold a debate about the issue.
Speaking at the handover of the petition at a meeting of the full council on Thursday, September 22, Ms Shepherd-DuBey said: “We believe that 2,374 people agree with us that the council should think again about other options for the libraries.”
The Save Our Libraries petition is calling on the council to change its decision because campaigners say the only way a private company will make profit will be to close libraries and increase charges for residents.
But leader of the council Councillor David Lee told members at the full council meeting that the council must come up with new ideas to give its residents the best possible service. He said: “Unlike other authorities we have opened a new library and a new children’s centre recently.
“We could not have done that if we stay in the past and do nothing to change the way we provide our services.”
The move will see Wokingham Borough Council become one of the first in the country to outsource its libraries and executive members have repeatedly assured library users that the service will not be reduced.
After the meeting Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for internal services, said the council is undergoing a process to find a partner company which would be willing to invest in the borough’s libraries. She said: “We are in the middle of the competitive dialogue stage. What we are doing is considering outsourcing and the reason for that is we need to make the substantial investment in our library service and we do not have the money.
“I do not understand where the Liberal Democrats are coming from. We do not want to close libraries. We have not got enough money to spend on things we would like to spend on as a council and we do not want to take any services away from people in the borough so there’s really no other option.”
It was hoped interested investors would have made an offer by January 2012, with a partner being approved by the council’s executive next March but plans could be delayed as the issue will be publicly debated at the next meeting of the full council on Thursday, November 17.
Leader of Wokingham Liberal Democrats Cllr Prue Bray said the debate will give the council a chance to rethink the decision and consider alternative options.
She said: “I do not know whether the Conservatives would change their mind, but we are not asking them to do this or do that we are asking them just to think again about giving it to a private sector organisation.
“We hope to have a proper constructive debate about what should be done in the future and how we can preserve them.”