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Libraries – are the Tories playing games?

Labour councillors in South Gloucestershire are questioning whether the ruling Conservatives have been playing games by proposing a plan for the district’s libraries which they have now quickly ditched. The Tory Council recently consulted on a controversial plan to turn the majority of the district’s libraries into ‘satellites’ that would be open just 18 hours a week. This plan led to the formation of ‘save our library’ campaigns across the district, with users making their opposition clear.

Now, in a report going to a committee for decision next week, the council has effectively ripped up that plan and is instead recommending a brand new proposal which would see libraries open for much longer hours, although many of them would be unstaffed. The report claims that the ‘Open Plus’ model being proposed has been “successfully adopted” by several other councils.

Ian_Library.jpgCouncillor Ian Boulton, Labour’s spokesperson on library issues, has welcomed the change of heart but is questioning the Tories’ actions. Councillor Boulton says:

“The previous plan would have seen most of South Gloucestershire’s libraries reduced to a shadow of themselves so I obviously welcome it being dropped. We still have a lot of questions about this new ‘Open Plus’ proposal, especially in relation to staffing and security, and we will be pursuing those.

Over the last few months we have been working with campaigners in South Gloucestershire to highlight the disastrous Conservative proposals to cut our local library services. I suspect that the first question that most of the campaigners will be asking is: why have the Tories put us through all this anxiety when there was an alternative option available? ‘Open Plus’ has not been dreamt up in the past few weeks and it should have been the basis of the consultation.

I think it fair to question whether the Tories are in fact playing games by proposing something unpopular and then toning it down in an attempt to claim they have listened to the public. We have seen the same pattern with Kingswood Civic Centre, where an unpopular original proposal was subsequently modified.

Of course, South Gloucestershire would not have to pursue library cuts of this magnitude if Conservative councillors had backed Labour’s proposal to invest £460k into libraries rather than shave 50p a month off of the green bin subscription when we set the council’s budget in February.”

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