Labour councillors from across West Sussex have reacted with outrage at controversial proposals by the Tory-run council, that would see significant cutbacks to the Library service across West Sussex.
This would see the mobile library service abolished, all the main libraries’ opening hours cut back by at least an hour and many of the smaller libraries would be under threat of complete closure – as the Tory council tries to cut back services to fit its shrinking budget following continued drastic cuts by the national Tory Government.
West Sussex County Council has launched a consultation on the proposed cutbacks, asking residents for their views, but Labour councillors fear this is just a PR exercise and that the decisions on the library service have already been taken unofficially.
In response, Labour councillors across West Sussex are calling on the Tory leadership at West Sussex to abandon plans for all of these cuts which will hurt local communities and stop people from accessing their library services. Further to this they have launched a petition this week so that residents can join in and support the campaign.
- The four largest libraries in West Sussex, Worthing, Crawley, Horsham and Chichester are all faced with earlier closing, at 6pm rather than 7pm, meaning that working people in regular hours jobs are unlikely to be access their local service at any other time than on Saturdays.
- The thirteen “smaller” libraries which are at risk are:
- The mobile library service would see its services entirely abolished which would mean many people out in remoter parts of the county who were unable to access the towns easily would lose out on this long-standing service and would either be forced to travel into their nearest town or seek other arrangements.
- This cutback also involves the West Sussex Tories going back on a promise made as a result of pressure brought on them by a Labour motion at full county council back in October 2017, in which they promised to maintain the same number of library “hubs” across the council.
The petition has been launched by the Worthing Borough councillor for Broadwater, Dawn Smith, who was appalled when she discovered that her local library was one of the potential targets. She was joined outside her local library earlier this week by Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham Lavinia O’Connor, fellow councillors, residents and Labour Group Leader on West Sussex County Council Michael Jones.
Councillor Smith said:
“I have absolutely no confidence that this Tory council will protect vital services. So many of our young people benefit from their local libraries, large or small. For events like ‘rhyme time’ any closure of their local libraries will mean they will have to go elsewhere, if their parents can get them there, and even if they can most are oversubscribed and they will have to go on a waiting list.
“If that wasn’t bad enough, there is also a proposal for all libraries to shut at 6pm rather than 7pm across the whole county. This is also something we oppose. For example, it will probably restrict most working people to only using libraries on Saturdays.”
“We can’t stand for this. Small libraries, like at Broadwater, are at the heart of our communities. If they go, a valuable resource is lost to everyone. It makes me so angry.”
She has been supported by Labour’s Parliamentary candidate at the forthcoming general election and Adur Borough Councillor Lavinia O’Connor (Southlands), who said:
“Unfortunately this is yet another example of how this Tory Government’s continual austerity drive is seeing services cut back and people excluded. Digital exclusion is a real problem for many people and cutting back the times that these people can access such services is incredibly harmful. This is not something we should even be contemplating in a civilised society. We must fight this.”
Labour Group Leader on the County Council Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) who is a member of the Select Committee where the proposals were scrutinised and supported by the Tory majority, added:
“It is outrageously unfair to cut back in this way, and socially very damaging. West Sussex say they want libraries to be the heart of their communities. But presumably that is only provided that the community finishes at six in the evening.
“The West Sussex Library Service is one of the jewels in the crown of the county council and it is heartbreaking to see it being whittled away in this wholly irresponsible manner by the West Sussex Tories.
“And the sad fact is that all these Tory cuts to the library service are paltry in local government spending terms and to achieve them they will diminish a vital and much loved service. I know Labour councillors across West Sussex will be keeping up the pressure to ensure none of them do.”
If the petition, which calls on the Cabinet Member to scrap any planned cuts to the library service, raises 3,000 signatures, which can be from anyone who lives, works or studies in West Sussex, West Sussex County Council will be forced to consider it at a meeting of the full council, where it will have to decide whether to take action to listen to the petitioners’ calls.