'Their collective silence has been deafening' say library campaigners but Northamptonshire MPs hit back after criticism
A library campaign group is calling for Northamptonshire MPs to force the Government to save 21 book-lending services, after the county council slashed Â£40 million from its budget.
Northamptonshire Libraries Friends Groups and Supporters - a collective group of individuals from library friends groups in the county - is asking for the help of MPs in fighting their corner.
Chris Davidson secretary to the Friends of Kettering Library and a spokesman for the group said: "We note with concern the recent lack of comment and action from local MPs, one of whom is the Libraries Minister.
"We also call on them as our elected representatives to force the Government to intervene to save our libraries.
"Their collective silence has been deafening and leads us to conclude that their party is more important than people."
Northamptonshire County Council revealed on Tuesday (February 27) that 21 of its county libraries would only be able to open on one day per week with immediate effect.
Members have had to cut all but essential spending after a S114 notice was issued imposing strict spending controls.
Separately from that, on Wednesday (February 28) the council also decided to cut its libraries budget for 2018/19, which meant that eight large libraries would be retained and a different 21 libraries would close.
All seven MPs were asked what part they had played to save the county's libraries.
But Michael Ellis MP for Northampton North, the Government minister for libraries responded by saying the Northamptonshire Libraries Friends Groups and Supporters group was an attempt to bring party politics into the issue.
He said: "I was the first person to publicly express no confidence in the leadership of the Council in October last year and it is because I have been publicly critical of NCC for months now that it is appropriate to have removed myself from judging them in this matter.
"This is an attempt to bring party politics into this issue and frankly those who try to do that are showing that they care less about libraries and more about scoring political points.”
Andrew Lewer MP for Northampton South and a former council leader in Derby said: “All of the county MPs have been working incredibly hard to deal with the issue of library closures and the reduction of opening hours. To say that we seven MPs have been silent is utterly ridiculous.
"We have already called for the county council leadership to resign. It made national news and we called for an independent investigation into the financial management of the council which we were successful with. Again, this made national news.
"We have been very vocal and critical of the way that the county council has been run and been on the front foot at every turn."
Andrea Leadsom MP for South Northants and leader of the House of Commons, said: “In the last few years we have met, as a group of MPs on regular occasions with the leadership of Northamptonshire County Council, to represent our constituents’ interests as well as to express concerns about some services.
"We have also raised issues with both the current and previous Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on a number of occasions. Ultimately, this is what led to an inspector being appointed to get to the bottom of what has happened, and my colleagues and I are awaiting the findings later this month.
"In South Northamptonshire, I have been vociferous in my support of the libraries under threat.
"I will always put my constituents’ interests first.”
Tom Pursglove MP for Corby disagrees with the spokesman's comments.
He said: "All of my constant work on this issue has been widely publicised on my Facebook page - Tom Pursglove MP - and in my fortnightly electronic ‘Westminster Report’ newsletter.
“I also have very strong working relationships with each of the library friends’ groups in my constituency - I would be extremely surprised if they were to share the sentiment expressed, because, regardless of people’s individual politics, we are all simply focussed on working together to find actual solutions to keep our libraries open in the long-term.
“Political posturing and point-scoring is simply a distraction to that objective.”
Philip Hollobone MP for Kettering said the accusation from the friends’ group was hurtful.
He said: "Responsibility for local library closures rests entirely with the county council, whose decision it is.
"I am opposed to these local library closures and have raised this issue on the floor of the House of Commons every month for the last four months as well as direct in person with the County Council Cabinet Member for Finance himself at a meeting of the Kettering Town Forum.
"I attended a public meeting in Rothwell Parish Church on Friday 10 November to discuss possible options for Rothwell Library, which was very well attended by local people.
"To my mind, the best solution would be for there to be a county-wide trust established of which all affected libraries could be part. This would enable the libraries to attract external funding (e.g. the lottery etc.) to remain open.
Chris Heaton-Harris MP for Daventry said: “I have not been contacted by Northamptonshire Libraries Friends Groups and Supporters, so am surprised by their comment.
"I have, however, been contacted by a number of the groups supporting libraries within my constituency and have met with every group that has asked me and offered my support, help and advice.”
Peter Bone MP for Wellingborough said his weekly advice surgery has been open to anyone who has concerns about libraries.
"For the last six weeks, at least, at my weekly ‘Listening Campaign’ meeting, the situation at the county council and the libraries has been discussed in great detail. Those attending the listening meetings include senior councillors and activists. I have been lending my support to measures that will keep the libraries open in Wellingborough and Rushden."
In response to the MPs comments, the friends of the library claim that they are not politically affiliated in any way.
Chris Davidson added: "We would suggest that library users will not be taken in by the belated excuses offered by our county’s MPs.
"After an initial burst of condemnation and absolution of blame, they have largely remained silent."