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Special meeting to take place to re-debate on cuts to Denbighshire libraries

A CONTROVERSIAL decision to drastically reduce library opening hours in Denbighshire has been called in and will be re-debated at a special council meeting on Thursday.

The special meeting follows controversial plans to slash Denbighshire libraries’ opening hours being approved by the council on 19 December.

The cabinet gave the green light to cut library opening times by 40% to save £360k per year.

The decision caused an outcry from some councillors as a public consultation garnering 4,500 responses revealed 90% of people strongly disagreed with the proposals.

But the council claims it faces “unprecedented” financial pressures with a near £25m shortfall in its budget next year.

But the decision has now been called in by members opposing the move, following a notice of a ‘call-in’ being submitted by five non-cabinet councillors.

Cllr Bobby Feeley was one of around 20 councillors who opposed the cabinet decision.

“It is a phenomenal service and to cut it by nearly half is short-sighted,” she said.

“In my view, it is wrong. I think to knock such a small service by such a huge amount to gain £350,000 is short-sighted because the libraries do far more. It’s not just get a library book any more. The library service now does far more than just lend books.

“They handle income, via a cash machine. There are other customer-facing services because so much is online now. It is face-to-face enquiries, which is disappearing.

“They have a lot of community events where people get together across the whole of Denbighshire. There are 10,000 people probably who go to community events in libraries. A lot of people are vulnerable. I heard of one case in which a schoolgirl with a difficult home life was using the libraries to do her homework.

“Well if they are going to cut the services, things like that can’t be done. There is also the availability of IT sessions within a library and the home library service, which is a vital service. Fifty percent of people in Denbighshire are library users. It is a small service. It is only £1.7m compared with nearly a £100m for education and social services and other big services, so a cut like this is totally disproportionate to the size of the service. I personally think they are just tinkering around the edges because they’ve got a £26m funding gap.”

The matter could be referred back to cabinet.

But speaking at last month’s meeting, leader Cllr Jason McLellan said the council was under a huge amount of pressure.

“It is a frontline service, we’ve recognized. The consultation (response) was massive, we’ve recognised,” he said.

“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.”