Pressure grows on mayor over decision to close town libraries

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PRESSURE was building on Doncaster’s elected mayor Peter Davies last night as he prepared to make a controversial decision which could close 14 libraries across the borough in the face of vehement opposition.

Doncaster Council has been consistently attacked after plans were announced late last year to slash the number of libraries the authority runs in an attempt to save up to £1.5m in staff and building-related costs.

The authority has to save £73m over the next four years under the coalition Government’s austerity measures, and the mayor has said that the borough library service must be modernised to achieve efficiencies.

He will chair a meeting today at which a decision is expected to be made over the issue, and the former schoolteacher has said that he has been forced into the closure programme by national Government.

But Mayor Davies was personally criticised yesterday over his handling of the closures, after he angrily walked out of a public meeting held on Wednesday evening over one of the libraries under threat.

A pressure group has been set up to fight the proposals drawn up by the mayor, who is the only English Democrat on the council, and his council Cabinet, which is made up of Tory and Independent councillors.

Members of Save Doncaster Libraries were present at the meeting at the Phoenix Theatre in Bawtry, in the south of the borough, and said they were “appalled” that Mayor Davies refused to discuss their objections.

Jackie Maguire, who has lived in Bawtry for 26 years, said Mayor Davies had told her he had no idea where the library was in the town or what the building looked like when she asked questions about his plans.

Mrs Maguire added: “I attended the meeting and said that I was appalled that the mayor could come to a public meeting about Bawtry library and say that he had never visited it and didn’t know what it looked like or where it was. He was very poorly prepared.”

Mrs Maguire’s husband Mick said he was also angry that the mayor failed to answer any questions about why Bawtry had been placed on the library “hit list” when it was one of the more popular in the borough.

He added: “I never really got an answer from Mayor Davies as to how Bawtry, which ranked in the top three libraries on the statutory criteria, and seventh when local factors were added in, could be going to be cut.

“The mayor had no answer to that.”

A report to be considered at today’s meeting recommends that Doncaster’s current 26 libraries are reduced to 12 “core libraries”.

Communities which will see their library shut under the plan are Carcroft, Stainforth, Edenthorpe, Moorends, Scawthorpe, Wheatley, Warmsworth, Sprotbrough, Bessacarr, Denaby, Rossington, Bawtry, Balby and Intake.

It is understood that Mayor Davies finally left the meeting after a representative from trade union Unison attempted to ask a question.

Labour MP Caroline Flint, who represents Bawtry, said she had been unable to attend the meeting herself, but had sent a representative to speak on her behalf, whom had witnessed Mr Davies “storming out”.

She added: “I do feel the mayor embarrassed himself at the Bawtry public meeting. When an elected mayor tells residents who are fighting to save an important public asset that he doesn’t know anything about it – how can they trust the quality of that decision?

“Mayor Davies just sees a building with a £70,000 a year cost attached. He knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Libraries play a huge role in communities like Bawtry.

“Mayor Davies and his Tory-led Cabinet are rushing at this, making bad decisions along the way. No wonder Bawtry residents are up in arms about it.”

The mayor was not available for comment yesterday.