Economic Environmental & Sustainability Overview
and Scrutiny Committee : 29th October 2009

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QUESTION(S) TO COMMITTEE : 29 OCTOBER

Question : Shirley Burnham

"I am grateful that, in Swindon, a member of the public who asks her Council questions is unlikely to be challenged to a duel -- as in the recent case of the Member for Culture of Brighton & Hove and the library campaigner, Mr Hawtree.  I therefore feel it is safe for me to voice residents' concern that they still have no knowledge of what exactly is envisaged for Old Town Library and the timetable.   Would the Chair kindly request the Cabinet Lead Member to confirm whether or not the Friends of Old Town Library are to be involved in the creation of the library in the Arts Centre and whether (and how) she might plan to include them in each stage of the project?"

Question/Comment : Mrs Diana Heywood, Epworth Court, Bath Road :
"We want to have people serving us in the library, not just machines.  Machines put people of my age off and we may not go to it if there is no Library Assistant to consult and assist us."

The Chair, Councillor Tomlinson's response :
He asked Alison, Clerk to the Committee, to deliver Shirley's question to the Lead Member for her attention and to remind Councillor Foley and Allyson Jordan of the importance of involving the Friends of Old Town Library at every stage.  He also thanked Mrs Heywood for her comments and said : "hypothetically a core library service will function at the Arts Centre, like the current arrangement. A great advantage will be that, in theory, access to the stock will be available outside core hours by using the machines and that outside core hours there would be Arts Centre staff available to give assistance to anyone requiring it."

Councillor Stan Pajak requested :
that the Lead Member's answer to Shirley's question be made in writing and put in the record.  The Chair agreed to that request.

COMMENT (FROM SHIRLEY) ABOUT THE MEETING

The Chair, Councillor Tomlinson, made the following important statement : "There will be no further closures of libraries".   However, another Councillor interjected that his understanding is that : "There will be no further closures until a Library Strategy has been formulated".
(On 30th October Councillor Tomlinson sent us this point of clarification : "Actually, Cllr Jim Grant asked for the clarification of the minutes of the previous meeting where Cllr Foley had made the statement, "There will be no further closures of libraries".  I just agreed with Jim, that that was also my recollection.  As Chair of the Overview it isnít my power to make that statement, only Cllr Foley as Lead Member can.)

The Chair asked Councillor Pajak to comment on the activities and findings of a Task Group which had looked at the Arts Centre.  Councillor Pajak said he has not seen any report from the Group, of which he was a member.  They had attended and enjoyed the production of a play at the Arts Centre, met staff and other groups which use the Arts Centre, etc. but. he said, "After that it 'fell away'  --  there were no proper meetings; there was a loss of direction and no strategy".  Councillor Pajak concluded : "It was like treading water".

Councillor Philip Young, Lead Member for Culture, Regeneration & Economic Development, said that the Task Group has not met since he has been Lead Member for Culture.  "It is an 'officer-led' piece of work," he said.

Councillor Pajak asked about the time frame and whether the move to the Arts Centre would abrupt or gradual.  He also asked a question about the financial advantages of such a move and expressed concern about the existing library premises lying empty.

The Chair directed Members to look at the "Architects' Brief".  He advised Members that the Brief is now with senior Officers.

The Vice Chair, Councillor James Grant expressed some considerable dissatisfaction with the Architects' Brief.

On the matter of Investment, Councillor Young said that a Capital Bid has been submitted, but no firm figures are available.  There will be a Feasibility Study.  He stressed that he cannot disclose the figure publicly, but that the current figure is "quite high" and other submissions must be looked at.

With regard to the Time Frame for moving the library into the Arts Centre, Councillor Young said that it will be after April 2010 and "will have to be worked around the Arts Centre's existing commitments".  "Old Town Library will stay in the existing facility in the meantime."

In general, Members expressed a very positive view of the plan to move the library into the Arts Centre.  One Member asked whether any study had been undertaken of the synergy between Old Town Library users and groups which use the Arts Centre.  The answer was that no such study had been done, but it could be put in hand.  A great advantage was seen in that all those visiting the Arts Centre for whatever purpose would see what is on offer there and that the library facility would be large enough to allow pre-school groups and others to benefit greatly from the space.

Councillor Mike Bawden said that "There is a total commitment from both Members and Officers".  He added, "It is now the end of October and we do need to get things done.  I am getting very frustrated."
He went on to say that he was disgusted with the Liberal Democrats for having the brass neck to claim that they had helped to save the Old Town Library.

Shirley B and Diana Heywood then left the meeting, which continued without them.

The record above was made from hastily written notes and apologies are made for any inaccuracies therein.  Our thanks to Councillor Tomlinson for clarifying one point (his message of 30/10 mentioned above)

Any Comments ?

Councillor Fionuala Foley : Lead Member for Libraries : Mail Councillor Foley

Councillor Justin Tomlinson, Chair :
Mail Councillor Tomlinson

Councillor Philip Young: Lead Member for Culture, Regeneration & Economic Development
Mail Councillor Young