Thursday, June 12, 2014
Axminster Guildhall is packed as the town demands a rethink over plans to downgrade the service
Angry residents packed Axminster Guildhall this week to protest at plans to downgrade the town’s library.
They blasted a message to Devon County Council that any money-saving scheme to run it with volunteers is totally unacceptable.
And they presented surprised officials with a cost breakdown - based on the authority’s own figures – to show that under-threat Axminster library actually offers better value for taxpayers’ money than any other in Devon.
The county council is currently consulting with the public over major changes to its libraries as part of its “tough choices” proposals to reduce spending.
In the local area, the suggestion is to retain Seaton’s “higher use” library as one of several “Devon Centres”, with salaried staff, while running Axminster’s with unpaid helpers.
In the firing line at Monday’s meeting were county council libraries’ spokesman Cllr Roger Croad and head of Devon libraries Ciara Eastell.
Cllr Croad told the gathering that they had to find £1.5million savings over the next three years.
The proposal was to operate 22 professionally-run ‘Devon hub’ libraries and 28 community led ones, using unpaid helpers.
Axminster county councillor Andrew Moulding said he appreciated the authority had to save a tremendous amount of money but their proposals did not accord with the status of his town. Axminster was set to grow by some 50 per cent over the next 12 to 15 years – unlike Seaton whose geography limited its expansion.
Jo Hawkins, spokeswoman for the Support Axminster Library group, was cheered when she used the county council’s own figures to show how Axminster Library was the most cost efficient in Devon – yet the most under resourced.
She said it cost 75p per issue against £1.68 in Seaton and £2.20 in Cullompton.
Axminster also had less spend per head of population than any other Devon library - just £2.19 against £8.76 at Seaton and £10.43 in Barnstable.
She said; “So if all the other libraries were as efficient as Axminster the county council would save £2.2million.”
Cllr Croad said: “I would not argue with your figures and I congratulate you on your research...I would like to take these figures away with me.”
And he urged all the town’s residents to fill in the county council questionnaire about the planned changes to the service.
“If you don’t like the questions cross them out and put you own proposals,” he said.
Cllr Croad added that Axminster library was one of the smallest in the county and finding larger premises might help upgrade it to a hub, which needed to accommodate other community services.
During the town council meeting which followed the public debate members backed Mayor Jeremy Walden’s call to officially oppose any place to replace the professional staff at the library with volunteers and to point out the county council proposals were based on ‘cursory and inaccurate’ figures.
In addition members agreed to explore ways of raising capital to provide an even more comprehensive library service for residents.