Report from I.W. Councillor Roger Mazillius

Posted by IWC Admin on Saturday, 22nd January 2011, 00:00

COUNCILLOR ROGER MAZILLIUS
I.W. COUNCILLOR FOR
COWES SOUTH & NORTHWOOD
21 OXFORD STREET, NORTHWOOD
ISLE OF WIGHT PO31 8PT
Tel: 01983 295556
Email:
roger.mazillius@iow.gov.uk

REPORT – FEBRUARY 2011

ISLAND LIBRARIES

Although launched in the context of public expenditure reductions, and therefore caught up in a wider hue and cry, the council’s library proposals are not about cutting the availability of free books and library material. They are to move from an exclusively council-run service to a combination of council and community library distribution.
The council’s proposals cover Libraries Extra, run by the council with enhanced services; Libraries Local, community-led and issuing books on free loan from the council’s very wide stock; Libraries Direct, mobile service in rural communities; Libraries Home, a commissioned service for readers unable to leave their homes; and Libraries Online, an extensive range available round the clock via the internet. The Council’s existing headquarters and storage/distribution facility at Somerton will continue to operate and will service all libraries in addition to Ryde and Newport.

Under our proposals residents with a love of books, and an interest in sharing that delight with others, will be able to contribute fully as volunteers in the Island’s library service. Training and support for potential volunteers will be provided by the council on a programme to start shortly after the end of the consultation period (subject to the direction in the council’s proposals being agreed as the way forward).

Many questions are being asked about existing library premises. Our proposal is simple; if a suitable community group comes forward in an area served by a library building, we will look to assist it to take over the premises on preferential terms, either long-term or by shorter arrangement. We recognise that some local communities may wish to locate in a different building.

If a voluntary group wishes to establish a Library Local in an area where there is no library at present, we are willing to assist in the identification of a suitable base, whether in a community hall, school or commercial premises.

You may not agree with the Coalition Government’s commitment to deficit reduction but the council’s elected majority considers it necessary and accepts that significant reductions in local government funding form part of the Coalition’s strategy. In any case, we have no option but to agree a balanced budget within our reduced grants; that is the law.

The required level of spending reduction by the Isle of Wight Council, estimated to be in excess of £17m in the coming year, can only be achieved by radically reshaping the activity of the local authority. Reduction in direct management of all libraries by the council forms part of this reshaping. I must repeat that our proposal, under public consultation until 7th February, is not to reduce the availability of free library books to the public but to allow communities more control over and participation in providing books for people of all ages. The number and type of books and library material will not be reduced. It is our clear aim to achieve an improved library service in the longer term, particularly if local operation is coordinated, and possibly co-located, with other community services and interests.

As an avid reader myself, and as a dedicated supporter of free public libraries, I intend to play my part by training as a voluntary helper and encouraging my friends to do so. There are many in the retired community who can put something back into society by helping in this way; possibly assisting in literacy and young people’s enjoyment of books in the process. I will of course be most pleased to hear from residents who might wish to volunteer in this way and indeed from any resident with their views.

All of this will be discussed by Cowes Town Council at its public meeting on 19th January because it is important that Cowes Library remains open as a community library. I have written a full report to the Town Council on the proposals and will report back further to residents thereafter. I expect the issue will also be discussed at the next meetings of Northwood and Gurnard Parish Councils, whose support for a new Cowes community library service will be very much welcomed.

Finally I can tell residents that several other areas of the Island where local libraries as presently run are at risk, for example, Bembridge, Freshwater, Niton, Shanklin are all moving swiftly towards taking over their local libraries as a voluntary community run asset. I can see no reason why Cowes and its wider community cannot do the same.

PUBLIC CONVENIENCES

The I.W. Council currently operates 67 public conveniences across the Island. Thirty-two of these have been identified as having low use which could be closed to help achieve the financial savings required to deliver a balanced budget. So the council is reviewing this provision to provide more strategically located toilets that are more cost effective.

It is estimated that this re-provisioning will save £250,000 in a full year (less in the first year due to de-commissioning costs). This is an important part of the budget reductions the Council has to make over the next four years.

Cowes being a major Island town and port will retain all its main toilets under the present proposals. Other areas where closures are proposed are now under consultation and I have no doubt that some such will in fact be retained due to public demand and revised usage figures. In addition I am aware of the importance of public toilet provision, particularly for those with certain medical conditions and every effort will be made to assist both residents and visitors in this regard.

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