Closure deadline looms for Raunds Community Library as town councillors look at finances
The heated meeting took place to discuss the business plan put forward by library trustees
Supporters and volunteers of a community-run library that could be closed by the end of March have pleaded their case to councillors at a packed meeting at the town's Saxon Hall.
Before the meeting even got to the apologies, a member of the public shouted at councillors that they needed to save the library resulting in the chairman, mayor of Raunds Sylvia Hughes, to temporarily suspend proceedings.
At the full council meeting of Raunds Town Council library volunteers had rallied to defend the library to councillors who will ultimately decide its fate.
In December a letter to Raunds Community Library trustees had been informed that the library's agreement of a ‘Tenancy at Will’ with North Northamptonshire Council (previously Northamptonshire County Council) could now be terminated, closing the library for ever.
Speaking at the meeting library trustee Peter Wathen said: "The trustees and volunteers have kept our library open for three years - for children whose parents can't afford books, for the elderly, for the vulnerable, for the out of work who use the internet, for the lonely and for newcomers to the town.
"With the library the town is richer in culture and more caring. Libraries are amazing place - they teach us and enrich.
"The town specifically raised our precept. If the council doesn't act now, it will close forever."
Library volunteer Nigel Harper said: "We know the costs of the library, but it's the value of the library - it would be a terrible shame for it to close. We need to keep the library open."
Tansi Harper added: "The Raunds residents supported the rise in council tax. Now is the time to rally the people to want to work together."
Former mayor Nick Beck was also allowed to speak. It was under his mayorship in 2018 that a town meeting was called to gauge support for the library when it appeared on a list of the then Northamptonshire County Council list of libraries that would close unless taken on by the community.
He said: "Whether it was clear or not it was the expectation that we bought the library. There are some people in this room, some councillors, who were on Northamptonshire County Council, East Northants District Council and Raunds Town Council and maybe or maybe not there was a conflict of interest."
Helen Howell, a town councillor and unitary councillor, responded to the comments from the public.
She said: "The Tenancy at Will was always a temporary measure. It cannot continue indefinitely. North Northants Council can only go so far as the needs analysis. The library is not required so it must be treated in the same way. I'm in no position to alter that decision. If there's no agreement then the library building will have to be closed. I'm hoping that a solution can be found."
Councillors debated four options - for Raunds Town Council to buy the land and building and fund all the costs, for the town council to buy the premises and sublet it to the library trust, run the library services from another location or to let the library service lapse.
Town clerk Steve Beech told the meeting that the total running cost of the library would be £61,520 a year, which would equate to £233 per day that it was open.
Last month the latest valuation of the land and building had been made at £325,000.
After the change from two-tier to a unitary council a re-valuation of the library was made and its price tag increased from £170,000 to £320,000.
He then recommended to councillors that they meet urgently to discuss the business plan submitted by the library trust.
Cllr Lee Wilkes said: "It [the business plan] has been a while coming, we are only just seeing it now. It appears to be comprehensive.
"It is important for everybody - we all want the library service to continue in Raunds. We all believe that the volunteers are doing a fantastic job and the volunteers' efforts are not going unnoticed. Raunds Town Council had no input in closing the library
"We all recognise the value of the library. It is the residents who would have to pay for it. All we want to do is to work out whether the people of Raunds should pay for the library."
Cllr Richard Levell admitted that £40,000 had been ringfenced in 2018/19 and another £40,000 had been ringfenced in 2019/20 for the library.
He added: "All the current council tax is now spoken for. It is only £80,000 - once that is spent we would have to raise additional council tax."
Cllr Wilkes added: "Clearly we need to do due diligence. Our commitment has not waivered but it's just trying to justify the cost."
Cllr Dudley Hughes said: "It is 12 per cent of the total budget. It would be a big slice out of our budget. The £80,000 would be very nice but it would still be a 10 per cent of our total revenue."
After Cllr Howell had said that everybody wanted the library but that the people at the meeting only represented a 'small proportion' of the population, former mayor of Raunds Nick Beck uttered an expletive heard by the 28 members of the public and left the meeting.
Councillors resolved to receive the town clerk's report and recommendation that: "The library working party meet to discuss the business plan, succession plan, and options, and report back to full council.”
After the meeting trustee Phil Grace said: "We have given them figures. We believe we have not been able to establish a dialogue. We are looking forward to meeting with the 'library working party'."
In a response to this paper today it was disclosed that the 'library working party' were one and the same as Raunds Town Council and constituted of every elected councillor and the town clerk.
Mr Wathen added: "It's farcical."
The next full council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, February 8.