A PETITION has been launched by irate residents in Innerleithen, angry over plans to move local authority contact centre services into the town’s local library, writes Mark Entwistle.
Last week, TheSouthern reported on the controversial plans by Scottish Borders Council to merge libraries with council contact centres in seven towns and, at the same time, reduce their opening hours.
The proposals are due to be determined later this month, but already elected members at Newtown are facing widespread calls to ditch the scheme, aimed at saving the local authority nearly £200,000 a year in staffing and building maintenance costs.
The Innerleithen petition has been organised by local community councillor Tim Clancy and his wife, Jane, to draw attention to what is happening to the town’s library services, as he feels local letters of protest have received little recognition from Scottish Borders councillors.
Mrs Clancy says they and many other residents are unhappy the matter seems to be being treated as a low key issue by SBC whilst at the same time the local authority has brought forward the closure of the consultation date for the library proposals from the October 27 to the 14th of this month.
“We wanted to start the petition from the grassroots level to show there is a ground swell of support within the Innerleithen community both for Elaine Hogarth [librarian] and Innnerleithen Library Services,” Mrs Clancy told us.
“Innerleithen has a strong sense of community and the library is a community hub for many, especially the young learners.”
Mrs Clancy says the proposed reduction in the opening hours of the library from 16 hours per week to 14, means primary and secondary pupils would have four hours less access to the facility per week than at present.
On the issue of the librarian, Mrs Clancy added: “Elaine Hogarth is fantastic and has worked hard on many successful projects – often with the backing of St Ronan’s school and the wider community – to encourage young learners to join the library and take up various reading challenges.
“But the contact centre has minimal visitors per week. Why use the Contact Centre as an excuse to reduce what is currently an excellent and well used library service?
“While the contact service staff who would also deliver the library service would be given training, it cannot be matched with the many years of experience, dedication and goodwill that Elaine has shown to the library users of Innerleithen.”
Mrs Clancy went on to urge Innerleithen residents to sign the petition, copies of which have been lodged in the library, Co-op, Post Office and many other establishments along the town’s High Street.
“The petition’s doing well, with more and more signatures being added all the time,” she added.
Her husband says the petition issue divided opinion at this week’s meeting of the local community council, with six councillors in favour of signing and five against.
“There was a fairly robust debate over this and opinions varied,” Councillor Clancy told TheSouthern.
He added that the petition was not part of a move to target contact centres. “We’re not trying to hit contact centres. There’s nothing wrong with contact centre services coming into the same building as the library. Our concern, though, is over any cutting of staff, such as the librarian and the reduction in opening hours.”
At a meeting with another community council last month, the integration project’s manager John Meehan, said the changes were necessary to move both services on to a sustainable basis within their communities, to improve the range of services offered, to improve access to those services and to deliver efficiences in lower operating and property costs.
He also revealed that contact centre use had been declining for the past four years and in April this year, the centres ceased taking cash payments, resulting in a significant reduction in transactions.
But Innerleithen Community Trust chairman Ross McGinn says he detects a real groundswell of opposition to the council’s plans.
“Reducing the hours for a facility like this in a growing community such as Innerleithen does not make sense,” he told us.