Shropshire Star

Tories hit back over Telford & Wrekin Council library closures plan

Council chiefs in Telford do not need to close libraries to balance the books, it was claimed today.


The Conservative opposition group on Telford & Wrekin Council has published its alternative budget and pledged to keep all six under-threat libraries open.

The authority's ruling Labour group said it had "no option" but to close Madeley, Newport, Dawley, Donnington, Stirchley and Hadley libraries as part of a cost-cutting budget to save £30 million over the next two years.

They say their hands have been tied by continual cuts to the grant it gets from the government for running costs.

But Councillor Andrew Eade, opposition leader on the council, said there was no way Newport or Madeley libraries should be shut because they were still very well used.

He said they would definitely stay open in his plans.

Moves would be made to convert the other four into "public service mutuals" and run in a different way to ensure they stayed open.

The Tory budget has been passed as "robust" by council finance chief Ken Clarke and will be taken into the council chamber alongside the Labour budget when a final vote and decision is made.

Councillor Eade reveled that the level of council borrowing in Telford had almost tripled in the last four years, now standing at more than £260 million.

He said it had reached "crazy" and "worrying" levels and said the Conservatives' budget would reduce debt by more than £70 million.

It would see the council-owned solar farm sold off to a private company and the hundreds of homes the authority is building for rent instead sold off to private developers.

Councillor Eade said: "During May 2011, the incoming Labour administration criticised Conservative borrowing commitments used to fund borough-wide regeneration, which then stood at £117.9 million.

"As a result, Labour's '100 day budget' of summer 2011 reduced borrowing to £91.1m – a reduction of £26.8m.

"However, Labour's borrowing commitments have since increased to unprecedented levels and are currently projected to reach an anticipated record £261.6 million after only four-and-a-half years of the current administration."

He added: "Although much of this additional debt is envisaged to generate a greater revenue return than the cost of borrowing, the exposure to a future change in circumstances, legislation, technology or solar farm tariffs could prove a very significant risk in the future.

"Furthermore, a significant proportion of this debt is invested into speculative areas such as commercial and residential property.

"We do not agree with this 'tax and spend' approach and will seek to reduce borrowing levels."

The Tory leader said the opposition was also against library closures, particularly those of Newport and Madeley.

Councillor Eade said: "We fundamentally disagree with the Labour administration's plan for the borough's library service.

"The administration's aim to close the above borough libraries is without strategic thought and tantamount to a 'slash and burn' approach.

"In particular, with proposals to retain two major libraries at the centre of the borough, the high usage of Newport – 76,750 visitors – and Madeley – 36,500 visitors – clearly demonstrate the strategic need for also retaining and supporting these two facilities in the north and south of the borough. Consequently our budget proposals cancel these suggested closures."

After examining the alternative budget closely, Ken Clarke, chief finance officer for the council, said: "The overall budget for 2016/17 would be likely to balance and can therefore be considered as robust."

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