Friday, 1 December 2017

Hay Library: The Town Council's Response to the HOWLS Statement

As with the HOWLS statement, there's no point in me paraphrasing this letter, which can be found on the Hay Town Council Facebook page, so here it is in full:

It was at a council meeting in July 2016 that the Town Council were first informed that the library service in Hay was under threat unless the community could commit to providing 50% of the running costs with effect from 1 April 2017. At this point, there was no prospect of the library even being moved to the school without this funding contribution. We were told that a mobile library van once per month was what we could expect.
The Town Council’s income comes from the precept. The carparks in the town are owned by Powys County Council who promised us a small percentage of the income if we were to take over running the public toilets and recreation facilities. To date we have received none of the car park income owed to us. So, we have no income that could be used to cover the cost of the library service. Additionally, we could not legally fund the library service to the amount that was required as Town Councils are prohibited from using more than a set amount of their income (the equivalent of just over £8 per person on the electoral roll) for all grants that they distribute.
Given the financial issues our reaction, therefore, was to challenge the closure decision; how could the ‘Town of Books’ not have a library. So, whilst HOWLs acted as the public face of the campaign to save the library, representatives from HTC were meeting with other councils in Powys affected by the library closure decision to see if we might, by working together, pose a legal challenge to the PCC decision. This was unsuccessful as PCC refused to talk to us as a group and instead dealt with each council individually ‘picking them off’ one by one.
On 30 November 2016 at a meeting with officers from the library service and the Chief Executive of PCC, the Town Council proposed taking over ownership of the library building and developing it further (into a community and business hub), to maintain and grow the services offered from the building. In addition, the Town Council wished to retain the Council building to maintain it as a base not just for the council, but also for the various business, community and voluntary groups that use it.
The response to this proposal was that it would not be accepted by the Powys Cabinet because PCC needed to sell assets to fill their funding gaps. If we were to have ownership of two buildings transferred, the process of filling the financial gap would be jeopardised. At a further meeting with the Powys Cabinet in September 2017 it was reiterated that we could not have two buildings transferred to us and that we might end up with none, because “some town councils don’t have any buildings”.
In April 2017 following the HOWLs campaign and much behind the scenes work by our Town Clerk (Nigel), councillors, County Councillor (Gareth), and with Hay Festival’s financial help, Powys eventually agreed to maintain the library service at its current level and gave the community until the end of December 2017 to come up with a business plan that would enable the library to stay in its current location, otherwise it would move to the new Primary School and the service be reduced to 12 hours per week.
The town council has met with HOWLs several times to discuss a partnership approach. Although the plan put forward by HOWLS for the library building was attractive, there was no outline business plan and no firm financial plans to make the idea a reality other than HTC paying around £12,000 per year to run the building. This is not affordable for the Town Council as it would mean allocating around 25% of our annual budget to maintaining this building when we have a number of other financial commitments. So, it was with regret, that we declined to be involved.
However, we did state that we were very committed to working with HOWLS and supporting them to grow the library service at the school. We have already had discussions with third parties to gain financial support for this, so that there would potentially be no drop in hours once the library moves to the school.
The Town Council has always been committed to maintaining a library service in Hay. The fact that the work of HOWLS and the Town Council has saved the service, albeit provided in a different location, should be viewed as a positive.

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