Mayor defends decision to veto £380,000 libraries investment

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DONCASTER’S elected mayor has defended a decision to veto proposals which would have seen £380,000 spent reversing his plans to hand libraries to community volunteer groups.

Peter Davies said he “was not prepared” to amend his budget proposals as suggested by Doncaster Council’s Labour group and reintroduce one member of full-time paid staff into each library.

Instead Mr Davies said the money identified by his opponents for the scheme would be set on one side until next year, when it could be used to help the council meet more expected cuts.

There was some confusion following a meeting on Monday night, which was supposed to iron out differences between the mayor and the council’s Labour members on spending plans for 2012/13.

The Labour group is the largest on Doncaster Council, which meant the library amendment was passed by a large majority. But the vote was rendered meaningless when the mayor said he would ignore it.

Mr Davies is able to refuse to follow the wishes of the full council under the elected mayoral system, which gives him the final executive say over all of the authority’s financial decisions.

He told the Yorkshire Post: “As I understand it, I cannot spend the money on anything else, but I am not prepared to spend it on the libraries as suggested because my policy is already successful.

“So the money will be placed on one side. The Labour party spent years neglecting libraries in this borough and my policy was to close two and hand 12 over to the community to save money.

“We plan to go to town on the other 12 and make them much more welcoming and brighter, not the run down, dowdy places they were under previous Labour administrations.

“Introducing one member of paid staff into each library would totally undermine the ideas that we have had, and would see the 300 volunteers who have signed up to the scheme departing in great numbers.

“This amendment was simply aimed at stopping the libraries policy succeeding under my leadership and would be a waste of money and all the work we have already done.”

Mr Davies pointed out that he had accepted four other amendments put forward by the Labour group including those on Citizens Advice Bureau funding and a reduction in adult day care fee increases.

A referendum will be held on the future of the mayoral system in Doncaster later this year, with residents being asked whether they want to make changes.

The council will spend around £135,000 staging the vote alongside the election of local councillors, an outlay which Mr Davies has also said he is opposed to.

Electors will be asked whether they want the elected mayoral system to remain, or revert to a system where the council is run by the leader of the biggest political group.

At present that is the leader of the Labour group Coun Sandra Holland, who attacked Mr Davies and the mayoral system yesterday.

She said: “I am appalled by the news that the Mayor will ignore this vote of full council and refuses to wake up to the fact that Doncaster people want to see community libraries supported and closed libraries re-opened.”

“In my view, this underlines why we need to revert to a leader and cabinet model where the leader can be held to account. I hope people can see that the mayoral model is not democratic.

“In these tough times I wanted to see Doncaster Council adopt a budget fair for all. I am proud of what Labour has achieved as we have amended the budget to help lessen burden on residents, while protecting frontline services.

“However, I have grave concerns about the implementation of this budget under a Mayor with no regard for the decisions of the full council.”

martin.slack@ypn.co.uk