Controversial proposals to merge libraries and contact centres – cutting opening hours in the process – in seven towns are set to be revisited today after a massive public outcry.
“The reponse to our plans to integrate the two services has been hugely negative,” admitted Graham Garvie, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for culture, sport and community learning.
Councillor Garvie (Lib Dem) revealed he had intervened to stop a report urging the changes – designed the save up to £130,000 a year – going before councillors on October 25.
A fortnight earlier, the deadline for responses from an informal consultation of community councils had expired.
“I was taken aback by the strength of feeling, particularly from Innerleithen, Selkirk and Kelso, on the proposals and I persuaded colleagues to postpone consideration of the report pending further examination of the concerns expressed.”
The other towns earmarked for co-location and opening-hours cuts are Duns, Jedburgh, Melrose and Coldstream.
Mr Garvie, whose Tweeddale East ward includes Innerleithen, told us yesterday: “I am determined there should be no reduction in library hours anywhere in the Borders.
“Although these are unprecedented financial times in which councils are having to operate and a certain amount of service rationalisation is inevitable, I will be pressing for no reduction in library hours and a further review of options for the delivery of contact centre services. I will be asking for staff moves to be kept to a minimum.”
SBC confirmed this week that chief executive Tracey Logan and education director Glenn Rodger would meet with Mr Garvie and executive councillors Neil Calvert (finance), Michael Cook (corporate improvement) and Alex Nicol (personnel) at Newtown today “to consider the feedback from communities and decide how to progress the project”.
News of the private summit came after Monday’s meeting of Selkirk Community Council which was recently briefed on proposals to move library services from Ettrick Terrace into the High Street contact centre.
Outgoing community council chairman Gordon Edgar said integration discriminated against thousands of council taxpayers in the seven affected towns who would become “second-class citizens”. In Selkirk, the daily opening hours would be cut and the facility closed altogether on Wednesday.
When one observer called for a public meeting on the future of the library, she was given mixed messages by two SBC councillors for Selkirkshire.
Kenneth Gunn believed a decision, because of its potential unpopularity, would be delayed until after next May’s elections, while Vicky Davidson felt such a meeting should be held urgently because the report on integration had merely been delayed, pending amendment.
Mr Garvie, who last week handed over a 1,000-signature petition to Mr Rodger on behalf of Innerleithen residents opposed to the merger and any library hour cuts, said: “The message is coming through loud and clear that reducing these important community services is a cut too far.” And, if and when revised proposals go to council, Mr Garvie will have the support of his Tweeddale East Tory colleague Gavin Logan, who told us: “I support the decision to look at this again after the strong and justified reaction from the public.”