Plans for Desborough council tax payers to pick up the cost of buying the town’s library could be about to hit choppy waters.
Desborough Town Council is holding an extraordinary meeting on Thursday (July 25) to decide whether it should put up £210,000 from its own funds to help buy the building in High Street from Northamptonshire County Council.
The county authority is disposing of a number of its libraries as part of cost-cutting measures and handing over the running to community groups.
But the plans are starting to hit hurdles with the community group proposing to run Higham Ferrers library bailing out, saying that the costs and pressures on volunteers would be too high.
Now there is a split on Desborough Town Council about whether it should use its funds to help buy the library.
Seven of the 12 councillors who will have a vote on Thursday are also trustees or members of Desborough Library and Community Hub, the charity set up to take over control of the library. They have gained special dispensation under the 2011 Localism Act to allow them to have a vote despite their involvement with the charity.
Independent Cllr Simon Stroud is concerned about the plan for the council to use a chunk of the council's reserves to pay to retain a library in the town. At March 2019 the council had a bank balance of £517,000 and is proposing to spend £283,000 of it this year.*
He said on social media platform Twitter: “All very odd and cllrs expected to make a decision without having sight of any form of business plan and with a heavily weighted agreement.”
The library charity has received a grant of £150,000 from the Maud Elkington Trust to go towards buying the building. The town council set aside £210,000 in this year’s budget to help towards the library. A total of £120,000 would go towards making up the remainder of the £270,000 sale price being asked for by NCC and £90,000 would go towards three-year running costs.
The report, which recommends agreeing to give the funding to the charity, says the ownership of the building will be given to the library charity rather than the town council.
Town councillor Gil Holmes, who is also chairman of the Desborough Library and Community Hub, says the town council has twice agreed to fund the library and a motion put forward at last week’s town council meeting put a spanner in the works at the 11th hour.
He said: “The only way to secure the library is for Desborough to buy it. Then we have it.”
Cllr Gill said no-one had asked to see the business plan and it had been kept under wraps for data protection purposes, but would be explained at Thursday’s meeting.
Desborough is one of the five 'community managed libraries that have been given statutory protection by the county council, however if the plan to buy the library does not go through then the library could be forced to move to new premises.
Northamptonshire County Council is planning to hand over 17 of its 36 libraries to community groups. The plan, which has had various versions, has long been controversial and last summer the authority was https://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/news/campaigners-win-legal-battle-over-library-closures-in-northants-1-8600412defeated in a high court battle.
This is the latest drama that has hit Desborough Town Council in recent years.
In 2016 the town held a referendum after the Conservative ruling group decided to impose a 400 per cent precept hike, to pay for new community assets.
The town council then stood down en mass and in May last year a new membership was elected, mostly made up of non-political councillors. It reduced the high precept this spring.
The meeting is taking place at 8pm at Desborough library.
*Please note this figure has been corrected from an earlier version of this article which said the council had £283,000 in reserves in total.