On Monday I attended the monthly Lakenheath Parish Council meeting, having rushed back from a meeting in London with Suffolk’s MPs, to give my monthly report as Lakenheath’s Suffolk County Councillor.
In addition to my usual report I was extra keen to be there as they had kindly agreed to have a debate about the Lakenheath Library Consultation; and whilst it was tight getting back in time I particularly wanted to be in attendance as I had asked them to table the discussion.
At the start of the meeting the Chairman calls for representation from the public and a number of people spoke about the Library and were none too kind about Suffolk County Council. When we got to the discussion on the agenda I took on board what was said by the people who had come along to hear our discussion, in my comments.
In opening I talked about the Government’s Comprehensive Spending revue and the 28% cuts to the county council’s overall funding the government has told us we must save over the next four years as our contribution to deal with the national budget deficit. I have also talked about the incredibly difficult decisions and indeed sleepless night many of the officers and councillors have had as we’ve wrestled with the implications and where we are going to have to make cuts.
I said it’s fair to say that cuts are never ever going to be popular but as we worked through the options before us, our priority has been to protect the vulnerable in our communities and seek to make savings that do not hurt the vital services. We are also driving through fundamentally changes to the Council and have proposed over 1400 job cuts this coming year; for that is what 28% less means, a fundamental change and in many respects what we have come to expect, what we have come to enjoy, is no longer financially available to us.
I went on to say the cuts have finally arrived on our door steps here in Lakenheath and on the 19th January it was announced that our great little library is under threat of closure. I informed the Council that on the afternoon of the 19th I visited Chris, our librarian to discuss what was very worrying news to him and we chatted through what I was going to try to do in response.
As they knew that evening I emailed the Parish Council and asked for the future of our library to be discussed at the next meeting and sent details of where Parish Councillors could find all the information they needed ahead of that debate.
I also informed them that I have hired the Peace Memorial Hall for a public meeting at 7:30pm on Thursday 10th March, I then handed out copied of the posters I am going to put up around the village and I said I hoped that as many of them and the residents of Lakenheath as possible would be able to come along.
I told them that I have arranged for staff from the Library service to be there to present the issues and explain the costs of running our Library.
Whilst they knew where to find the information because I had advised the Clerk, for the benefit of the public present, I said that they could read about the scale of the challenge before us and find all the details at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/
I said the questions before us as a community are: Are we prepared to volunteer to run it? Are we prepared as a community to take on the building? Can we find ways to lower the running cost and possibly even make it pay for itself? How about a community coffee shop and cyber café? Can the local charities offer financial support?
I then informed the Council that for my part I am happy to facility the meeting on the 10th and to be involved in an action group and if we are able to come up with a robust business plan; I would be willing to help set up a community interest company and be pleased to be a Trustee. I had already confirmed with fellow Trustees of the Jabez and Selah Bennett Charity that we could offer £1,000 per year towards the running costs, which is a start.
I finished my contribution and members of the Parish Council then discussed some of their thoughts and a good and lively discussion was had, with some thoughts proposed that I am currently exploring as to what we might be able to achieve.
I finished my final thoughts by thanking them for their contribution and said I would be delighted to see them on Thursday 10th of March at 7:30pm at the Peace Memorial Hall and I would be delighted to see you there too!