A week after Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member responsible for libraries, Judy Terry, promised that libraries were saved, she turned on her heels yesterday and rejected a call to give an assurance that no libraries would be closed before 2013.
At a, by all accounts, chaotic meeting of the county council is became clear that 20 libraries remained under threat if they were not taken over by communities.
This is very much the position that was overwhelmingly rejected in a consultation where 3,839 people responded but only 102 supported the idea of community run libraries. The gun is still pointing at the heads of communities which are being told, take-over your library or it will be closed.
Ms Terry told the council that there were many expressions of interest in running these libraries, but she did not say how many of them also said they wanted the library to be run by the county.
I was not at the meeting, but library campaigners James Hargrave and Sue Hall have written accounts. Paul Geater, the Archant newspapers local government correspondent in Ipswich, understandably chose to report what James Hargrave, who presented petitions to save libraries containing 35,000 names, said at greater length than the councillors. James also tweeted the meeting (see my previous post).
It was, from what I have heard, a meeting that would be impossible to report in any way which would be intelligible to readers of the East Anglian Daily Times.
The goodwill that was given to the new leader of the council, Mark Bee, seems to be evaporating fast. He promised to listen and to have a conversation with the people. On yesterday’s showing he does not appear to have the authority to ensure the councillors have a reasonable conversation among themselves.
But from what sense I can make of the voting figures, it seems that some of the 55-strong ruling conservative group abstained. The tiny Labour group of four put forward a motion that no libraries should close before 2013. How the Greens and Lib Dems (15 seats betwen them) voted/abstained I have not been able to discover.
And Mark Bee’s reputation will not be enhanced by a report in the EADT that taking rubbish to recycling centres is likely to become a postcode lottery which some people paying between £3 and £12 to dump rubbish while others will be able to do so free at county run centres that remain open.
He had delayed planned closures to seek alternatives. Now it looks as it any alternatives will be extremely unpopular. Mark Bee has had a very short honeymoon, since taking over from Jeremy Pembroke. And the credit he has been given for pronouncing the end of the New Strategic Direction (virtual council) policy and removing chief executive Andrea Hill is short lived.
It is looking as if those Conservative councillors who were saying privately, after the NSD was scrapped, that nothing had really changed were right.