Mobile libraries saved as B&NES confirms council tax freeze
Plans to axe the Bath area’s mobile library service have been shelved as a budget which will reduce council borrowing, freeze council tax, and provide more money for some community projects is approved.
All of the broad brush proposals put forward by Bath and North East Somerset Council’s cabinet were agreed at the annual budget meeting last night where the authority agreed a £1 million reduction in what it calls frontline services, as part of an overall £12 million savings drive.
The rest of the savings will come from renegotiating contracts, reducing borrowing and what B&NES calls “significant back office” changes.
Among its new spending plans are a £2 million investment over two years in new street lighting, £1.2 million over three years on new affordable homes, £2.44 million on repairing Victoria Bridge, £500,000 on new 20mph limits, and £7.5 million on improving school buildings.
The council will also be spending £4.8 million on road maintenance in the next year, as well as £500,000 to restore woodland at Beechen Cliff and £1.8 million to improve Rossiter Road at Widcombe to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.
An attempt by opposition Tories to remove the allocation of £1.8 million over the next few years on gypsy and traveller sites from the budget was thwarted as it was described as “irresponsible” and “reckless” by the Lib Dems.
Tory leader Councillor Francine Haeberling (Con, Saltford), who attempted to move the amendment, said it was inappropriate to allocate capital funding to the provision of gypsy and traveller pitches before a site, or sites, have been identified.
However, Labour and Lib Dem councillors disagreed - amid scenes of increasing rancour - and the amendment was rejected.
During the budget debate, the administration did accept an amendment moved by the Tories to remove its proposal to discontinue the mobile library service.
Councillor David Dixon (Lib Dem, Oldfield), the cabinet member for neighbourhoods, acknowledged the plans to take the two vans off the road had been controversial, with a backlash from villages and communities on the edge of Bath.
“I am glad that we have decided to reinstate the funding for the mobile library service. This means that we are taking a decision as a listening council, based on the needs and wishes of the community and not on purely financial grounds. I hope we can redevelop our outreach services, including reviewing the future of the mobile library, home service and other community based library services to best meet the needs of residents in more rural areas of B&NES.”
The issue will be debated again in April, when the future of all library services will be brought before the cabinet.
Councillor Martin Veal, the Conservative shadow cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said the decision marked a victory for all the residents who value the service.
He said: "The strength of support among local residents was made clear to councillors by the hundreds of people who signed our petition calling for the service to be saved, as well as all those who attended public meetings and engaged in the council’s own consultation.
"Our amendment to the council's budget restores the funding required for the mobile library to enable it to continue.
"However, we will continue to stand up for the mobile library and argue its importance to the council so that it is not threatened again in future."
Council leader Councillor Paul Crossley (Lib Dem, Southdown) said: “These are difficult times for Britain’s economy with the Government taking action to reduce the financial deficit, including cutting grants to councils.
“Significant changes in national legislation with higher demand for council services due to factors such as an increasingly elderly population have made setting the 2012/13 budget very challenging.”
He added: “Whilst other councils have made deep cuts to frontline services, we have taken steps to become more efficient in the way in which our services are provided and protected frontline priority public services.
“For example, the transfer of social care staff to a social enterprise will deliver annual savings of £1.9 million by the fifth year of our contract.
“Our projected borrowings are being reduced from £206 million to £172 million.”
He also highlighted the council’s plans to freeze council tax and parking charges in recognition of the effects of the recession on people and kept weekly bin collections.
He said: “In light of the new challenges we face, a refreshed vision for our area sets out what services that people should expect and helps guide investment priorities.
“This vision will help people to fulfil their potential, support active and lively communities, and treasure our unique places and beautiful surroundings.”