The future of our libraries is an issue that is very close to my heart. I have lived in and around Bitterne Park for much of my life and have followed the proposed closure of Cobbett Road Library both as a resident and that of a representative of local people. As a child I enjoyed the many afternoons I spent in the library and it is indeed a very sad situation to see it under threat again. If this proposal goes ahead the community will lose an asset that will never return.
As a politician my job is to represent my constituents as best I can, but as the saying goes, you can’t please all people, all of the time. Politicians have always had to prioritise how they spend taxpayer’s money and choices have to be made.
I recently attended a public meeting with the Friends of Cobbett Road Library. The meeting was very well attended and it was clear to see that local people value this library and want it to stay at the heart of the community.
After the meeting, I was contacted by a number of those present telling me how shocked they were that the meeting was dominated by Labour politicians. I find myself in agreement with these residents, as although the meeting took place in Bitterne Park Ward, none of the local Conservative Councillors who all attended, were asked to take part. It was like a Labour Party rally.
I believe this showed a shocking lack of respect from Labour politicians who claim to want cross party support, but then go out of their way to sideline the local councillors, who without exception have spent their entire political careers supporting Cobbett Road Library.
That said, if the Friends of Cobbett Road Library are happy with that approach then it’s not for me to criticise.
Where I do take issue however is the duplicitous nature of Labour’s, ‘Save Cobbett Road Library Campaign’. It is Labour who are proposing the closure – no one else. It is Labour who choose what services to fund. If they were willing to cut the number of councillors for example, they could move this funding into the libraries and save them all. Only Labour can choose to keep the library open.
On the night before Labour set Southampton’s budget they received notice that they were to receive an extra £371,000 per year more than they had expected from government. Cobbett Road Library needs £52,000 to remain open. The cost to save all the threatened libraries is £286,000. If Labour want to close the libraries they should just say so. They should be honest with the community. Proposing closure and then campaigning against themselves will fool no one and they are insulting residents if they believe people will not see through this.
It’s time for Labour to come clean. They want to close the libraries but they don’t want voters to know that before the local and general elections in May.