Lincolnshire County Council, like other local authorities across England, are dealing with a difficult financial settlement from central government. Substantial reductions, savings or new revenue stream need to be found to balance the authority's budget.
Among the ways to achieve this is a cut of 31% to the Library Service budget, which will require a reconfiguration of the service away from a local authority model to a model with greater community engagement, through the use of volunteers running libraries in rural areas. Nettleham is one library that the county council would like to see run by volunteers.
Nettleham Parish Council held an Extraordinary Meeting at Nettleham Village Hall, Brookfield Avenue to consider the county council's proposals. Cllr. Terry Williams, the Chairman opened the meeting and explained how the meeting would be conducted. He introduced his fellow councillors, the council's officers and welcome 35 members of the public. The Chairman outlined the county council's proposals before welcoming Mr. Gary Porter, from the Library Service, and Cllr. Mrs. Jackie Brockway, Conservative (Nettleham & Saxilby Division) to answer questions from the public.
Questions were asked about the process that political leaders would be taking, the county council's need to make spending reductions, difficulties at pilots with regard to volunteer access to computerised library management systems, the effect on reading groups and disabled access to alternative mobile library provision.
Following the question and answer session, Mr. Porter left the meeting. Residents were then given the opportunity to make their views on the proposals, all universally against the proposed changes.
Cllr. Mrs. Brockway made a statement, she outlined that she had been working hard to dissuade her colleagues at the county council from pursuing this policy and was not prepared to support it. She stated she was really please with the quality and thoughtfulness of the comments made by local residents and that it gave her encouragement.
Finally the members of the Parish Council would debate and discuss the matter. Each Parish Councillor spoke. Cllr. Malcolm Leaning - who is also a district councillor - Liberal Democrat (Nettleham Ward), harked back to his use and the arrangements of the bookcase at the Church Institute in the village.
Conservative (Nettleham Ward), also a district councillor, spoke in favour of objecting to the county council's proposals. He said:
"There are plenty of arguments about the specific proposal for Nettleham and the proposals more generally. I would like to offer another option for those campaigning against these proposals to pursue. The County Council is run by a coalition of Liberal Democrats, Independents and the largest group is the Conservatives.
"The Liberal Democrats' manifesto from march makes no mention of the Library Service. However the Conservative Manifesto said this:
"We will encourage more people to play their part in stronger communitites by encouraging volunteering and neighbourliness as well as a greater use of public buildings such as schools and libraries where approriate.
Cllr. McNeill also stated that, following debate at the district council on the preceding Monday evening, he had joined the working party at West Lindsey District Council that would be submitting the district council's response to the proposals."We Promise to... Continue a countywide library network with better access and opening hours."I was Jackie's Agent in the recent local elections and Agent for nine other county candidates across the district, eight of the ten were elected. I have to say I am ashamed that so little regard is being paid to the promises made so recently."
Cllr. Joseph Siddall described the 'consultation document' as 'an insult to the word'. Whilst Cllr. Mrs. Janice Clayton, the Deputy Chairman of the Parish Council, wanted the county council to 'react positively to the public out cry and reconsider their position', however, she said she was 'a bit disappointed with the turnout tonight'.
Finally Cllr. Williams, address the meeting as a member of the Council, not in his capacity as Chairman, describing the proposal saying that the '31% reduction is wholly unreasonable' and that he hoped that as the provision of libraries was a statutory requirement that a case might be brought against the county council to the high court on the grounds that the decision was 'irrational', citing the use of the word in the case of the Police and Crime Commissioner's Suspension of the Chief Constable.
The Parish Council resolved to object in the strongest possible terms to the proposals for Nettleham Library and, without prejudice, would form a working party to put forward an expression of interest in a community led library bid for Nettleham; although it was made clear that this was a fall back position.