Mobile library hangs in balance

10:30am Monday 19th November 2012

A mobile library’s future remains in limbo.

Politicians have been debating about the Brighton and Hove City Council-owned community facility for a year.

The Green administration claims the current vehicle is outdated and has proposed to replace it to make savings as it looks to battle Government cuts.

But opposition councillors maintain the money can be found to keep the £84,000-a-year service running.

The latest twist in the saga came as Labour and Conservative councillors united to outvote the Greens and propose a new vehicle is bought and kept on the road three days a week.

However, the decision must be passed by the influential policy and resources committee, where the minority administration has the casting vote.

Speaking after the council’s economic development and culture committee meeting, Labour councillor Brian Fitch said: “The Greens will do anything to stop a new vehicle for the mobile library being bought.

“They need to go back to the council house, get the cheque book out and pay for a vehicle with the money we found in the budget.

“We have agreed to a reduced schedule to keep the service on the road, in the hope that when better times arrive we can increase the hours and stops this much loved service makes.”

More than 1,500 people signed a petition to save the community facility, which is used by more than 800 individuals, earlier this year.

Opposition councillors thought they had saved the service at February’s budget meeting when they found money to keep it running for six months.

About £120,000 was also allocated to buy a new library.

Yet, after no voluntary groups came forward to help with running costs, the council proposed to replace it with a personalised door-to-door “books-on-wheels” delivery service.

The latest plan will cost £37,000 a year and see the number of stops reduced from 24 to 11 a week.

Geoffrey Bowden, chairman of the economic development committee, said: “Whatever happens we will continue to have a mobile library service. I would love to have a service on wheels but we have got £9 million to find for this year’s budget and up to £25 million the year after.

“What we proposed was a 21st century alternative to the current service. What has been put forward will mean a brand new vehicle will stand around for four days of the week doing nothing.”

Coun Bowden said any decision had to be signed off by external auditors who would decide if it was value for money.

Library campaigner Harry Spillman said: “I am delighted that the library has received the vote and confidence of the committee but am disappointed the best-case scenario will involve a major reduction in service.”

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