Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Trentham Library Under Threat Of Closure?

On 9th December 2013 I attended and took minutes for a public meeting, held at Trentham High School, about concerns that Trentham Library may be closed as a result of Stoke-on-Trent City Council cuts to be made in the 27th February 2014 budget.  This has been reported and commented on in The Sentinel.  The library building appears in a list under review.

Anyone wishing to comment on the council's budget proposals should do so by 20th December 2013, by:

Councillors Peter Hayward and Terry Follows introduced the topic.
Dr Rowena Blencowe, head teacher at Trentham High, was introduced. She had provided the venue and said that school governors had decided there would be no charge for use of the school facilities for residents' meetings.
Marilyn Vigars had produced a Powerpoint presentation detailing key facts.
Ann and Maureen distributed sign-in sheets for those present.

67 residents attended the meeting! 10 had sent apologies for absence.

Cllr Hayward presented the Powerpoint.

Due to council cuts Trentham library is under medium threat of closure.

The library is not just a hut, it is a freely accessible community asset. As a library, it of course lends books, but is more than that; there are toddler classes, story time sessions and silver surfers. The rumour in the council is that library services will be centralised in Hanley with books distributed out to other areas.

Trentham library is one of the most used in the city for its size. The annual running costs are £3,000 for the building and £24,000 for staffing. There is a real and sustained threat of closure if nothing is done.

A resident asked why the hours couldn't be cut instead of closing the library?

Cllr Hayward said the council does want comments and alternative suggestions and in discussions so far it seems they may be willing to provide librarians and database access if they can get rid of the building.

There is a 20th December 2013 deadline for the council to decide cuts to the library service so that is also the deadline for asset rationalisation and a business plan. £3,000 would need to be raised but this could be done over a few years. Cllr Hayward said if this can be done, then the community would have the existing building and may also be able to raise money to add extra space to the building for community use.

A resident pointed out that we are rate payers so aren't we entitled to the library?

Cllr Hayward explained that the council are only obliged to provide a library service but this could be centralised in Hanley.

A resident asked if Trentham library could be relocated to the children's centre in Hanford?

Cllr Hayward said that the council had planned to close children's centres but didn't because the government would in that case claw back funds. There are considerable parking problems at the children's centre.

A resident asked if Trentham library could be relocated to Trentham High School?

Cllr Hayward said that would depend on ongoing support from the head and governors and parking would need to be considered.

There was a discussion of cutting the library hours, this can save a bit on staffing costs but not too much as there has to be two staff.

A resident reported that in the 1980s the library only opened on Tuesdays and Fridays, 3-7pm and was a third of the current size but was still very well used.

Cllr Hayward said in defence of the council, in other areas of the country other solutions such as asset transfer to communities were being used and our council is doing the same.

A resident asked, given that we are rate payers and the library is already 'ours' why do we have to buy it again?

Cllr Follows outlined 3 different options:
  1. Keep the library where it is.
  2. Sell 2 building plots from the grassed area by the library and use the money to keep the library going for a while.
  3. Move the library to Trentham High and sell 5 building plots from that site, using the money to keep the library going longer. The head is agreeable provided there is no cost to the school.

Cllr Hayward was keen to start asset transfer to the community on account of the short deadline.

A resident commented that the council plans do not make financial sense because to centralise the library and send out ordered books, the costs must be astronomical.

A resident said things should be left as they are. Although government has reduced funding for councils, our council has no justification to close Trentham library in order to make a very small saving when he said millions of pounds are being spent on Ingestre Square, the public sector and new build.

Cllr Follows said the council think we don't need things in Trentham because they view us as having big houses and several cars.

A resident asked why the council can't bring in money from the massive debts owed to them in council tax and rent arrears?

Cllr Hayward pointed out that although he and Cllr Follows are in political opposition in the council, he admits that debt collection rates are improving.

Cllr Hayward suggested we should put forward a proposal for Trentham library that the council would be embarrassed to refuse.

A resident said a pragmatic solution is needed to force the council into a corner. He suggested the council be asked to grant ownership of the entire library plot to the community so some could then be sold to run the library for ~10 years. This could be 'too difficult' for the council, in which case they can leave the library as it is.

Cllr Follows said he had already suggested this to the council but has not received a response as yet.

A resident, drawing on experience from her work, said that Hanford and Trentham has the least number of activity groups for older people in the city.

A resident suggested that as the data show that 33,000 books are borrowed from Trentham library each year, if each person paid 10p per book, the £3,000 would easily be raised.

Cllrs Follows and Hayward said that given the huge turnout at this meeting we can surely keep Trentham library and keep it on its current site. What is needed is a working group of 4-5 people for ~12 months to arrange asset transfer. Cllr Hayward said there will be more and more cuts year on year so it is best to take the library into community ownership in order to keep it.

A resident asked how the council manage to waste so much money?

A resident said there are 30 'clowns' – Labour councillors, agreeing to every cut. He wants the lot out. We have two good independent councillors fighting them who will always be outvoted.

Cllr Hayward said that a business plan for asset transfer does not generally have to go to a council vote, if it did we would be in dire straits.

Cllr Follows said the council have experience of Trentham residents and how much they are capable of fighting, because we fought to save Trentham High School and won.

Cllr Hayward said Trentham is not seen as a 'soft touch'.

A resident asked how we can present our plans to the council by 20th December?

Cllr Hayward said we need ~6 residents to help with the plan, especially those with business experience. Cllr Hayward said he can then collate a general package by 20th December. Then there can be more meetings to sort out the details.

A resident said it is important to initiate a plan in order to avoid falling under the 'savings' for this year's budget.

A resident said the solution seems to be to have residents volunteer to maintain the building, rather than volunteer in the library, as the council would provide the staff.

A resident said there are sources of grant money that can be obtained.

A resident asked for the land to be kept as well as the building.

A resident said the older generation could have difficulty going to a library elsewhere. He didn't think the council motivation in closing Trentham library is to save money, he thought they want to make money by selling the land.

A resident said very young children use the library as well and like to browse physical books rather than just view them on the computer.

Cllr Hayward said a local girl had used the library and won a prize for a Christmas card design.

A resident said we have skills, ability and a good mix of people in our area, so have the power to save the library.

Cllr Follows said if we can't keep the library where it is, It has been agreed it can come to Trentham High School. The head said they only have a very small library.

A resident said the library needs both books and computers.

A resident said that some people use the computers at the library to develop their skills.

A resident was concerned that although the current head is agreeable to the library being in the school, without any offence, the situation may change some years later.

A resident said Trentham library is our last community building and we need to keep it.

Cllr Hayward said that only 40% of people communicate with the council via computer.

A resident said that the value of the library to the community, from toddlers to life long learning, should be mentioned in the business plan.

Ann would take a note of residents willing to help with the business plan. Cllrs Follows and Hayward assured residents that they would lead the plan and liaise with the council but the substance of it needs to come from the community.

A resident said that the library staff had told him it was 'done and dusted' that Trentham library would close.

Cllrs Hayward and Follows said it certainly wasn't a done deal. They also said that amongst the libraries in the city, Trentham has only medium threat because the saving would be such a small amount.

A resident asked for publicity in The Sentinel.

A resident said if we have a good community facility we can put on more events for older people.

A resident said there are always people using the 3 computers in the library and that David Cameron wants everyone to have computer access and skills. The library could be expanded to help this and we should certainly make the point that computer access should not be cut off.

A resident said other areas have good facilities and there are funding sources we could use.

A resident referred to reports on the elderly and an emphasis on loneliness, the library is really helpful to combat this.

Cllr Hayward said the top two reasons why people like Trentham library are the parking available and the friendliness of the staff.

Cllr Hayward encouraged people to submit letters to the council for their budget consultation, protesting any planned closure of Trentham library. Last year there were only ~800 letters from the whole city, so a large number from Trentham would be helpful.

Two types of volunteers were requested:
  • business plan working party
  • ongoing library volunteers maybe needed in the future.

It was unanimously agreed that the business plan should focus on keeping the library building on its current site.

When asked how people had found out about the meeting, very many had found out from the poster in Trentham library!

A vote of thanks was given to Marilyn Vigars for producing the posters and Powerpoint presentation.

13 people volunteered for the business plan working party and there were plenty of ongoing volunteers also.

The meeting closed at 8.30pm.

Michelle Chow from The Sentinel talked to residents after the meeting.

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