CONTROVERSIAL plans to slash opening hours at libraries across Denbighshire have been approved.
Denbighshire Council’s cabinet gave the green light on Tuesday to cut library opening times by 40% in order to save £360k per year.
The decision was made despite a public consultation garnering 4,500 responses in which over 90% strongly disagreed with the proposals.
The council claims it faces “unprecedented” financial pressures with a near £25m shortfall in its budget next year.
Cllr Bobby Feeley said libraries did “a lot more than books” and pointed to the service employing many loyal and long-serving members of staff.
“I’m not a big fan of consultations because it doesn’t usually reap rewards in terms of the message that comes back and very few people take part, but in this case I cannot grumble because 4,500 plus people took part, and 96% of those were against the cuts,” she said.
“I maintain that 21% of this £1.7m service is disproportionate and unfair.
“It is fiddly, tinkering around the edges.
“The report does not give a complete picture.
“Redundancy costs haven’t been properly estimated, nor has the cost of the impact on other services, such as the One Stop Shop service.
“Most importantly (are) the adverse effects of what are now community hubs in every community across Denbighshire in an age where community cohesion has never been more important.
“I suggest [in] targeting the library service you have picked on a small dynamic service that punches way above its head, way above its weight, in terms of value for money, and it’s an award-winning service second to none in Wales.”
Cllr Huw Hilditch-Roberts called for the cabinet to be accountable after some cabinet members alluded to the idea the cuts were the fault of the Government for not sufficiently funding local councils.
“Just for the avoidance of doubt, I want to clarify, in this room, at the end of the day, it is this cabinet’s decision to cut libraries by 40%, not Westminster, not Cardiff,” he said.
“The decision is made here in this room today.
“I just want to be abundantly clear on that it is a cabinet decision.”
Leader Cllr Jason McLellan said: “It is a frontline service, we’ve recognised.
“The consultation (response) was massive, we’ve recognised.
“The consultation was overwhelmingly against cuts, we’ve recognised.
“But it does not get away from the fact that this is part and parcel [of] a huge, huge budget pressure that we face.
“None of us are taking this lightly.”
Cllr Emrys Wynne, the cabinet member responsible for libraries, added: “I’d like to make it absolutely clear from the outset that reducing the opening hours of our libraries is not something that sits comfortably with me.
“This is not why I became a county councillor, and this is not why I joined the cabinet; however, with a huge challenge we have ahead to balance our budget, we will need to make very many difficult decisions about things we all hold dear.”
The authority will scale back the libraries’ opening hours, as well as One Stop Shops, despite the service catering for 51% of its population described as registered library users.
Councillors were told cutting hours across all libraries was fairer than making savings by closing individual buildings.
The council plans to operate a system in which, for instance, Rhyl library will close when Prestatyn’s library is open, offering a degree of neighbouring-town cover.
Denbighshire’s libraries include those at Corwen, Denbigh, Llangollen, Prestatyn, Rhuddlan, Rhyl, Ruthin, and St Asaph.
The cabinet vote was unanimous.