Best-selling authors Alan Gibbons, Jake Arnott and Paul Cornell gave inspiring speeches to the gathered crowd of over 120 local residents and library users in Swindon yesterday, lending a national perspective to the local campaign and giving testimony to the importance of libraries and librarians to communities.
Borough Councillor and Cabinet Member for Economy, Regeneration and Skills, Garry Perkins attended the meeting and was fielded questions from the crowd. According to the Save Swindon Libraries group, he was not able to be clear on what role volunteers would have in Swindon’s libraries in future, but Cllr Perkins did guarantee that a service from only Central Library would not be the case. Cllr Perkins did not offer to move from the Council position of a cut to the library service.
Alan Gibbons was clear that local councillors, of whatever political hue, must stand up to central government to protect the budgets for delivery of the library service. This point was backed up by several local residents including Martin Wickes of Parks, and Alison Durrant of Highworth.
In a previous conversation between Alan Gibbons and MP for North Swindon, Justin Tomlinson (Con), Alan championed the need for a national standard for libraries. Tomlinson, a self-declared advocate for libraries, said that national standards must be decided locally, leading some commentators to argue this was a contradiction in terms.
Swindon residents were very clear on one point, and that was that in a week of revelations about the large sums put away in off-shore tax havens, the library budget of £2.6m was small change and could not justify a 60% cut.
Save Swindon’s Libraries Chair, Sarah Church said that a budget cut as high as 60% and a decision not to make use of transitional funding to keep libraries open were political choices, not choices made of necessity or in the best interests of Swindon residents.
The petition presented to Swindon Borough Council by the campaign has over 2000 signatures and will be debated in Full Council this coming Thursday 14 April.
Save Swindon’s Libraries will be holding a demonstration on the Council Office steps from 6pm on Thursday.