Councillors kick off party spat over library transfer proposals

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VOLUNTEERS are being sought to run seven council libraries across Kirklees.

The council is seeking to reduce its budget and wants community groups to take over several smaller libraries.

The transfer will mean job losses and possible changes in opening hours at libraries in Denby Dale, Golcar, Honley, Lepton, Kirkheaton, Shepley and Slaithwaite.

Conservative councillors who represent some of those areas have accused Labour councillors of choosing to close libraries in mainly Tory-voting wards.

The accusation has been rejected by Labour leaders.

Tory councillor Jim Dodds, who represents Denby Dale, has labelled the proposal “post code rationing” and an example of Labour “looking after their own”.

Five of the seven wards affected by the library changes have no Labour Party representation.

Councillor Dodds said: “I appreciate we are in difficult financial times and that we need to look at different ways of operating and providing services, but the Labour administration is clearly hell bent on looking after their own and entering the murky world of postcode politics by doing so, which I find unacceptable.

“It is proposed that seven libraries are to become community run and those in Denby Dale, Honley, Lepton, Slaithwaite and Shepley all happen to be in wards with no Labour councillors whatsoever.

“These libraries are largely in semi-rural wards, where services need to be maintained due to the geographical location of many of their residents.

“There has been no attempt to look at libraries in urban areas with a view to amalgamate some of them which are in close proximity, and in my view this would make more sense.

“What I find of real concern though is the response I got when I asked for details of the criteria used to decide which libraries would be put forward to be community run.

“The answer I got back was ‘the criteria used was verbal discussions between senior managers and Cabinet members’.

“In other words there is no audit trail and, therefore, no evidence for the general public as to whether the correct libraries have been selected for this venture.”

He said the council should “aim to produce common standards of services accessible to all residents, not postcode rationing to suit the Labour Cabinet.”

The claims have been rejected by Labour.

Councillor Cathy Scott, Cabinet member responsible for resources, said: “I am astonished at Councillor Dodds’ press statement about village libraries when he is at the forefront of leading the volunteer group looking to become involved in the library in Denby Dale.

“He also knows full well as it has been explained to him on more than one occasion that we are exploring how local people can become involved in local provision of service - something which his own national party is very keen to see through their policies for the Big Society.

“He accuses the Labour Party of ‘entering the murky world of postcode politics’ which he finds unacceptable.

“What I find completely unacceptable is his hypocrisy in criticising our policies whilst being first in the queue to implement them.

“During 2010, the Kirklees Tory group leadership were involved in the decision to identify the libraries which could be run by Big Society. I am amazed that he disagrees with his own party.”

The council said recently that it was committed to keeping libraries open but wanted communities to help run them “against a background of ongoing cuts”.

A council spokesman said the proposals were in keeping with the Government’s Big Society agenda.

Those run by volunteers would be supported by a ‘hub’ library which would also provide librarian support.

People who want to get involved being urged to get in touch with their local councillor.