Last Friday (10th December) around 500 people attended a public meeting in Cinderford, where County Council leader Mark Hawthorne addressed the audience on the council’s planned spending cuts in the area. About an hour was spent discussing the proposed cuts to the library service, which will see the libraries at Cinderford, Bream, Mitcheldean and Newnham close unless taken over and funded by volunteers, Lydney Library reduced to 3.5 opening days a week, and the total loss of the mobile library service.
Whilst out with our petition in Cinderford on Saturday we spoke to many people who had attended the meeting, all of whom were very unimpressed with Councillor Hawthorne’s arrogant attitude and lack of preparation, which left him unable to answer questions about the Council’s proposals.
We’ve received the following summary of the meeting from a Ruardean resident who was in attendance:
Mark Hawthorne basically confirmed that the public consultation is a sham. He will not budge from insisting Cinderford Library (and the others) will close, repeating over and over again about helping the “most vulnerable” through social services instead. The meeting of 500+ people, after many passionate and angry speeches from the audience, ended up giving him a slow handclap. As he left the stage an hour later he crashed into his ‘Big Community Offer’ presentation screen – which kind of said it all, really.
Nobody in that hall wanted to play ball with his supposed ‘conversation’, not least Cinderford Town Council, to whom he has passed the buck. He also falsely claimed that West Dean Parish Council has agreed to take on Bream Library, which is not true at all. Two audience quotes: “It’s not consultation, it’s conscription” and “all it’s about it asset-stripping”. He failed to answer questions such as “why Cinderford?” nor could he say how much the town library cost per year. Makes me (and no doubt hundreds of others) feel like storming Shire Hall and setting up burning barricades, to be honest.
Andy also attended the meeting, and sent us this report:
The meeting was very well attended with over 500 people in attendance, with local people spilling out into the street and the glut of police on duty (what were they expecting?) warning anybody trying to get in that they were unlikely to succeed.
Mr Hawthorne was asked why Cinderford library had been selected for closure. He continually referred to the requirement to make cuts, and the choice between services for the elderly and just about everything else. He suggested that it could become a community library continually promising that the council ‘would work with you’ in doing this. No factual explanation based on usage figures was offered, and Mr Hawthorne was lacking in any hard numbers.
Members of the audience with extensive experience of voluntary work within Cinderford pointed out that all the volunteer groups had a limited life and eventually failed. No counter to this was forthcoming. Mr Hawthorne’s attitude was that it would be somebody else’s problem by then, not his worry.
Mr Hawthorne pointed out that people in Cinderford, the library catchment population of which is the largest west of the Severn, could travel to Newent, Coleford or Lydney. He seemed completely unaware of the lack of public transport, and suggested that they could easily drive anyway. The simple fact that many do not drive or are children seemed to escape him, or he chose to ignore it. Once again the cry of ‘cuts have to be made’ was heard.
The only viable reason suggested was from the Mayor of Cinderford, who alluded to asset stripping as Cinderford Library is the only building that is a disposable asset. This was flatly denied, no explanation was given. Other rumours abound of the library plot being a means of access between Dockham Road and the High Street.
The job security of existing library staff was quickly dealt with, they have none. Mr Hawthorne refused to comment of the campaign of intimidation being carried out against library staff; nobody was in the least surprised by this.
Cinderford’s status as an area of deprivation according to the council’s own criteria, and therefore an area needing investment in the community rather that library closures was raised as a reason to look again at the closure policy. This was met once again with the pleas that ‘cuts have to be made’.
The meeting lasted over an hour and Mr Hawthorne left to the public slow clapping him, and in his haste to leave knocked over his own display screen.
If you were at this meeting we’d really like to hear your impressions. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please indicate in your email whether you’d be happy for your observations to be featured on this website, and if so whether you can be named or would prefer anonymity.