It was a very lengthy meeting – we started at 9.30am and it was after 4.30pm before we concluded.
The main decision, following consultation, was the closure of 16 Libraries. Making this kind of decision is not easy but the Trust has consistently said that they would be making this change to ensure a more efficient and sustainable library model going forward.
Even after this decision today, Fife will still have one of the largest Library provisions in Scotland. In addition 97% of our primary schools have a library provision. People have raised concerns about literacy. This is one of Fife Labour’s key priorities and that’s why we have funded literacy programmes in all our schools and that’s why we are seeing significant improvement in standards. Bucking the Scottish trend. We’ve chosen to invest in people – not buildings.
Other Councils across Scotland have already closed Libraries. Or else significantly cut the book fund, which ultimately reduces the quality of the library experience. Fife will not be doing that.
We will also be working with groups and communities interested in working up proposals in terms of a Library type service via volunteer groups. There are already a number of proposals being worked up and we expect to see notes of interest from other areas before the Christmas break. This will give the groups and officers time to work through the business plan and assess the support required before 1 April 2016.
We also plan to improve the Housebound Service and make route improvements to the Mobile Library Service.
The proposal that came from the SNP today to all of this is simply delay the decision for 1 year and take over half a million pounds from balances. This despite the fact that they already know we need to take £77M from our budget. They know that we have an equal pay claim pending that is likely to be eye watering, and that John Swinney is trailing a potential 4-5% cut in Council budgets.
This poplularist policy bandwagon has to stop at some time as there is quite simply not enough money to pay for everything the SNP want to fund.
Fife Council will be setting their budget in February. It will be interesting to see what the other political groups bring forward – and what they are proposing to cut. Because unfortunately that is the very stark reality that all political groups will have to consider – if the Council is to stay legal and balance its books.