Public debate demanded over plans for charitable trust
CAMPAIGNERS are urging Kent County Council to open a public debate about its proposals to hand the running of the county’s libraries to a charitable trust. The call comes after more than 4,000 people signed a petition entitled Save Our Public Libraries. A petition with 3,052 signatures, gathered between March 3 and April 8, was handed in to County Hall on Friday. Although the petition had closed, another 355 names were collected over the weekend.
Added to the 720 who signed the e-petition on the county council website, a total of 4,127 people had put their names to the fight against the plans for a trust. Campaigner Richard Stainston, 64, from Whitstable, said:
“The overall message to KCC is let’s have a debate — a serious one in which the costs and risks of a trust taking over Kent’s library service are fully identified and then properly considered. There is a tendency for local authorities to do things as much as possible on the nod, but we would like to see this proposal debated at full council, with public input. All councillors need to decide where their responsibilities lie with regard to our library service.”
The petition was organised by individual library users rather than a campaigning group and they said it had proved difficult to establish links across the county as had been hoped.
“This challenge of communicating across the county illustrated only too well the difficulty a trust would have without the representative infrastructure that KCC has, reinforcing the concern that petitioners have about loss of democratic accountability with a trust,”
said Mr Stainton, a retired teacher. The plans, which would involve KCC still owning its 99 libraries but leasing them to the trust, were unveiled by County Hall in January when a 12-week public consultation was announced. Councillors say their proposals would save money. £500,000 a year of this would be through the trust, as a charity not having to pay business rates. Another Whitstable resident, Jane Darling, who played a leading role in organising the petition, said:
“There were not that many signature-gathering occasions, so this impressive total is a sign of how keen people were to show their support for our public libraries.”
The campaigners want KCC to keep running the service, fearing that smaller libraries could be at risk under a trust. They are also concerned that a trust would make excessive use of volunteers and hope that KCC reserves could be used to avoid financial cuts to the library service. The Times approached County Hall for comment but they had not responded by the time we went to press.
Herne Bay Times, April 15th 2015