Last week’s Southern was right to point out that there has been a surge in library use in the last few years. It is questionable, though, whether this would have made any of our SBC councillors change their mind about merging library and contact centre services.
The councillors already knew of the widespread and significant opposition to the proposed merger and accompanying cuts in opening hours. It is important to note that, despite this, the merger proposal was voted through unanimously.
Not only was it supported by the controlling coalition of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, it was also supported by our six SNP councillors and the various independent voices on SBC. There was no opposition to the merger within SBC.
I emailed my three councillors (one from each of the three main parties) asking them to oppose the merger and giving reasons why they should oppose it. None of them replied.
It is also important to note that the merger and accompanying cuts will not save any money for at least the next three years. The proposal states that SBC will be spending £360,000 on property alterations needed to make the merger a reality. £130,000 per year will eventually be recouped by staffing cuts, which will not happen immediately and may be offset at first by redundancy and redeployment costs.
The remaining savings stated are based on SBC’s belief that the properties it sells off are worth £259,000 and that they will be sold off quickly enough to recoup £60,000 per year in maintenance costs. In the current market this sounds optimistic – there are plenty of empty business units and homes still waiting for buyers across the Borders. The councillors knew all of this and still supported the proposed merger.
Gordon Edgar is right to describe the merger as “a disgrace”. But I would take issue with his suggestion that library hours in Galashiels, Hawick and Peebles should also be cut in line with, and as a possible means to reducing, cuts to the smaller libraries. I would hate to see cuts in the larger libraries as much as I hate to see cuts in the smaller libraries.
We are all together in the Borders and should fight to protect our services across the region, not just in our home communities. This is especially important as one more feature of the merger is that councillors have empowered themselves to now review library use and opening hours annually and all libraries, large and small, may find their opening hours reduced by SBC without public consultation in the future.