7:00am Thursday 19th September 2013
By Bill Tanner
AN “on the brink” offer of an alternative to planned cuts in library and museum services across the county has been made just hours before Herefordshire Council’s cabinet meets to make its decision today.
As reported in today’s Hereford Times, cabinet is widely expected to back cost saving options to cut library and museum opening hours with talks to start on transferring such services to communities and trusts.
Projected savings achieved by the recommended options, however, fall some way short of targets the council set earlier this year.
Local government union UNISON will picket the council’s Brockington HQ ahead of cabinet at 2pm. Local protest groups are widely expected to join the picket.
UNISON is calling on cabinet to reject the recommended options and delay and decision for further research and consultation.
UNISON regional organiser Steve Akers said this position called on the Council to enact the decision made by full council in May to consider a referendum on raising council tax above cap in 2014 to reduce the need for further cuts in services and jobs, as well as raising funds through the sale of selected capital and land assets owned by Herefordshire Council.
“This had consistently been UNISON’s position. We have also put alternative details of Cost Saving proposals forward in the attached document. This has been circulated to all councillors and not just the Cabinet. We have approached the Council well in advance of the Cabinet meeting for negotiations on our proposals,” said Mr Akers.
“UNISON has very real concerns that if the recommendations are supported at cabinet today, not only will it lead to further cuts in services, it will effectively leave the final decision taking in the hands of just three people. We also question why the recommendations in the cabinet papers are not being debated in full and open Council,” he said.
Cabinet backing for today’s recommendation will commit the council to cuts in library opening hours by as much as 50 per cent with libraries themselves on borrowed time if they can’t lend themselves to other uses or find volunteers to run them through fund-raising support.
The options see hours cut at Hereford museum too, with trusts are seen as the future for heritage collections while town and parish councils take on sites of historic or cultural significance.
The council, however, has to keep hold of its the Museum Resource and Learning Centre - at least for the time being – or risk having to pay back much of the £1.2 m in heritage lottery funding that got the centre built.
Initial projections put the combined savings from the recommended options at £664k, well short of the near £1.5m target put to the council in May.
The museum service runs on an already small staff to a budget of £455k a year that, on the council’s own figures, generates a wider income of £5,603,493 for the county.
Over 650,000 people visited Herefordshire libraries last year and over a third of the local population are active users of their local library – the highest level in the West Midlands.
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