Minister meets leader about libraries' future

A top level meeting between a government minister and the leader of Lancashire County Council may provide some help for the county library service.

Saturday, 14th January 2017, 11:00 am
Last year primary school pupils from Cleveleys marched in support of their local libraries

County Coun Jenny Mein was cautiously hopeful that some extra funding may be available following a visit by minister Rob Wilson.

The minister for civil society had stepped into the controversy over the council’s closure of 28 of its 73 libraries, visiting County Hall to see for himself what is happening with the library service.

The VIP visit followed a call by Ben Wallace, Wyre and Preston North MP for the Government to intervene and “call in” the council closures and investigate whether it is meeting its legal obligations under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

Coun Andrea Kay

The Government had pledged to investigate the concerns as a formal complaint.

The first libraries closed at the end of September and six are now on or in the process of going on the market, including Freckleton Library on offer at £325,000.

After the 80 minute meeting Coun Mein said: “It was a very cordial meeting.

“He offered a couple of things and we are looking into it.

Lancashire County Council leader Jenny Mein

“It’s not to reopen the libraries that are already closed. It gave us the opportunity to let him know what a fantastic (library) offer we actually have.

“I think he was impressed with some of the things he heard.

“He will be writing to us in two to three weeks.”

The head of Lancashire’s library service Julie Bell and the head of property services Mel Ormisher also met the minister.

Coun Andrea Kay

Coun Mein added: “We have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service and obviously he was probing to try to make sure we did do that, also that we’ve consulted properly according to the rules.”

A Department of Culture spokeswoman said the visit was: “to discuss and question the authority’s existing and future plans for its library service” and meet local representatives concerned about a library closure.

The axed library services in Fylde and Wyre included: Ansdell, Freckleton, Kirkham, Lytham and Cleveleys.

This week a libraries campaigner warned a decision should be made on the future of libraries in Lancashire before volunteers walk away.

Lancashire County Council leader Jenny Mein

Coun Andrea Kay helped submit applications to take over the operation of Thornton and Cleveleys libraries.

The bids, by Thornton Gala Committee and UR Potential respectively, remain with County Hall officials.

But Coun Kay is concerned the clock is ticking and those groups who have been lined up to use the centres could begin to look elsewhere.

She said: “We need answers. They have made a decision on some but it is a drip, drip, drip We have groups lined up not only to take over the libraries but to use them.

“They are going to start to look for other options if there isn’t an answer soon.”