PCC’s head of cultural, leisure, registration and tourism services Mike Cavanagh met with members of Tenby Town Council this month, with the intention of asking for a funding contribution towards the town’s library, or the facility could face closing an extra day a week.
Across the county Tenby is one of four community councils along with Pembroke Dock, Milford Haven and Crymych that do not make a financial contribution to keep the library open.
“PCC has been managing financial pressures since 2013 and in that time within the library services we have done everything we can to try and avoid library closures,” wrote Mr Cavanagh ahead of the meeting.
“The library is very well used, being a lifeline for many local people, be it those who cannot afford to buy books, those who do not have access to the internet or a printer at home, people who are socially isolated and use the library for human contact. It is a very valued local community resource, and as a professional librarian myself, it is soul destroying to have to erode the service year after year due to budget pressures,” he added.
At discussions with councillors however, Mr Cavanagh said his intention had been to ask the Town Council if they could contribute towards the costs of Tenby Library this year to maintain current opening hours rather than having to cut them, but the ‘good news’ was, with PCC agreeing its budget for the year last week, as of today, he had a stay of execution over having to make cuts this year.
“That isn’t to say that the request may not come back next year,” added Mr. Cavanagh who then asked if the Town Council are minded to support Tenby library in the future.
Cllr Duncan Whitehurst said he felt that this budget settlement was good news, while Cllr Trevor Hallett added the library was ‘an essential part of the community’.
“We need it and we must use it or lose it,” he remarked.
Cllr Laurence Blackhall acknowledged the value of the library and it’s continuation, although he added that it also services outlying areas.
“How we factor this into future decisions, is something that the town council will have to consider,” he told his colleagues.
“When Pembrokeshire cuts services, local town and community councils are asked to step in, so effectively the town will get the same service as before but at greater cost via the local precept.”
He noted that the library was housed in a building that served a number of other purposes and wondered if PCC had looked into a Trust to run the building and therefore save some of those costs.
Mr. Cavanagh explained that there are eight libraries in the county supported in some way by town and community councils. The same question was raised over outlying communities using the facilities too and those local communities were written to.
Replies had included that they have use of the mobile library service or, if one or two said yes it would be problematic if some contributed and others did not. It gets nowhere sadly, he said.
“Double taxation is a reality,” he admitted. “Everything is important, it just depends on priority. When PCC are looking at saving £20 million it is hard,” continued Mr Cavanagh, who acknowledged that it was also difficult for town and community councils when all departments were asking if they could assist with funding services.
“Often these requests came after precepts had been agreed and town and community councils were placed in a difficult position as to what should take priority on their limited resources,” he continued, stating that he had spoken to PCC’s Chief Executive to see if all departments could get their requests to town and community councils in the Autumn, before budget setting, so members could make informed decisions when agreeing the precept.
He said he had, some time ago, looked at relocation of the library but there was nothing available in Tenby. PCC had also looked at creating a Trust as some other counties had but the model didn’t work for Pembrokeshire.