Public to have say on future of libraries in Suffolk

LIBRARY protesters and members of the public are set to have their say on county proposals for the service at a new-look scrutiny meeting next week.

The county's scrutiny committee is to look at proposals to change the way the library service is run at its meeting on Tuesday – and recommendations it makes will be fed through to the cabinet which is due to debate the service next month.

Protesters, led by James Hargrave from Stradbroke who has been co-ordinating the campaign in north Suffolk, have been invited to give their views to the meeting.

And there will also be an opportunity for members of the public to give their views about the future of the service during an 'open mic' session.

The committee will hear evidence from a range of groups and individuals who have been involved in the consultation process – including those who have expressed an interest in running a library.

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It will then question the county council's portfolio holder responsible for the libraries review, Judy Terry, on the direction the council is taking.

The committee will also be seeking to find out how responses to the consultation will be considered and reported to the council's Cabinet.

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Scrutiny chairman Colin Hart said: 'This is an important opportunity to look at how the council is moving forward with the libraries review – and give interested parties an opportunity to air their views in public.

'I've long called for the Scrutiny Committee to be given the opportunity to have a say on key issues before they are decided on by Cabinet.'

New leader Mark Bee, has made it clear that he wants the council to listen more carefully to what people in Suffolk are saying about the changes to public services being made in the county.

Mr Bee said: 'Suffolk County Council is faced with making some extremely difficult decisions in light of the reduced funding we have available to deliver council services.

'But it doesn't mean we can't involve Suffolk residents in those decisions and listen carefully to what they are saying.'

Mr Hargrave is looking forward to the meeting – but remains concerned about the future of the library service.

He said: 'I think the county was surprised by the hostility to their proposals for the library service. I think they had under-estimated the importance of libraries to many communities.

'The importance was underlined by the 42,000 people who signed petitions and the 4,000 who sent in responses to their original consultation exercise.'

He felt the tone from the council had improved, and the new administration under Mr Bee seemed more prepared to listen to concerns.

However he remained to be convinced there was a substantial change from the council's former position: 'I really hope the change in tone does mean the libraries have a more secure future. We shall see,' he said.

And county opposition leader Kathy Pollard remains to be convinced about a change in heart.

She said: 'I fear that the changes are not as great as they would like us to believe. I think we'll still end up with library closures.'

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