Reprieve for Fife libraries as scrutiny committee rejects closure decision

The campaign to save 16 Fife libraries from closure goes on (Photo: Fife Photo Agency)
The campaign to save 16 Fife libraries from closure goes on (Photo: Fife Photo Agency)

Fife Council’s executive committee will be forced to reconsider the closure of 16 libraries – after its decision was rejected by a scrutiny committee.

On the casting vote of chairman Councillor Susan Leslie, the education, health and social care scrutiny committee has requested Fife Council finds one-off funding of £571,000 to ensure all 16 libraries can be kept open for a further year.

This funding would allow Fife Cultural Trust (FCT) – which runs the libraries on behalf of the council – and local communities to develop “credible alternative delivery options for the 16 libraries”.

It’s now up to executive committee to decide whether to accept the scrutiny’s committee recommendations, in which case they will stand, or reject them, in which case the matter will be referred to the full council for a final decision.

Scrutiny committee members heard from councillors George Kay, Donald MacGregor, Andy Heer, Ann Sinclair and Elizabeth Riches, who all spoke against the executive’s decision to go ahead with the library closures.

They argued that FCT was being hit with larger budget cuts than other trusts, that the closures failed to take into account the difficulties many users would have in accessing alternative facilities, and that more details of alternative arrangements should be provided by FCT and the council before any libraries are closed.

They also called for detailed costings relating to the closures – including costs associated with developing alternative delivery models with local communities; the cost of alterations to remaining libraries, such as the one at Rothes Halls, which will require more space for additional books and to accommodate PCs; and the cost of moving PCs from libraries to alternative locations.

Council leader David Ross defended the executive’s decision, highlighting the severe financial pressures facing the council, and the need to make savings across services.

He said: “No one wants to close libraries, but the challenge we have to take on is to create a sustainable set-up for the longer term.

“We don’t want to be going back year after year, cutting more and more from the cultural trust. We need a sustainable model for the future.”

Following three hours considering the issue, Labour councillor David Graham proposed the scrutiny committee accepted the original decision of the executive.

But an amendment put forward by the SNP’s Julie Ford – effectively forcing the executive to reconsider its decision - was approved on the casting vote of the chairman, after the vote was tied at 7-7.

Cllr Ford’s amendment stated:

The scrutiny committee request that, before any library is closed, FCT and Fife Council:

• provides full information on the reasoning behind the decision to allocate the specific amount of savings required of the FCT, with the option for the executive to explore alternative savings;

• takes a lead in engagement with the local communities expressing an interest in exploring alternative delivery models, and agrees to provide regular monthly progress updates to the executive committee, and relevant area committees and local members;

• provides full costings, details of locations, hours of availability and timescale for proposals to move public access PCs;

• provides full costings and details of proposed relocation of non-library specific activities;

• gives full consideration to the issue of access and transportation as raised previously through the education, health and social care scrutiny committee;

• gives full consideration of individual EQIAs (Equality Impact Assessments) and their consequences;

• should target resources in areas of known deprivation including rurality to ensure there is capacity to support the development, improve access and use, and sustain community-led provision in line with the aspirations of the Fairer Fife Commission.

The scrutiny committee therefore requests that Fife Council agrees to additional one-off funding of £571,000, to ensure all 16 of the libraries that have been proposed for closure can be kept open for a further year from their current proposed closure dates.

“This funding will allow FCT and the local communities to develop a credible alternative delivery option for the 16 libraries, with each of the alternative delivery models taking over operation of the libraries as soon as is viable for them to do so, on a library by library basis within the 12 month period.