Library cutbacks: Council urged to drop plans to reduce library hours

Muirhouse Library Team Leader Declan McCann

Irvine Welsh says he would never have become a writer were it not for Muirhouse Library. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Muirhouse Library Team Leader Declan McCann Irvine Welsh says he would never have become a writer were it not for Muirhouse Library. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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LIBRARIES across the Capital face major cuts in opening hours unless the city council performs a last-minute U-turn on its budget proposals.

Under the cost-cutting plans, all Edinburgh’s public libraries would be closed on Monday and Wednesday mornings and on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, and only open on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm.

The mobile library service also faces cutbacks when the changes come into effect in April.

But council chiefs said unlike some local authorities, they had avoided closing any library completely.

The council – which meets tomorrow to set the 2017/18 budget – will have £10 million more than expected to spend next year following the deal between the Greens and the SNP to pass the Scottish Government budget at Holyrood last week. And Edinburgh’s Green councillors say some of that money should be used to reverse the proposed library cuts.

The party also wants to stop a £400,000 planned cut to Edinburgh Leisure’s budget for sports centres and swimming pools, and a £300,000 cut to support staff in special schools.

They would freeze council house rents, employ more environmental wardens to take action on fly-tipping, dog-fouling and antisocial behaviour; invest £300,000 in frontline street cleaning and put £3m into catch-up school repairs.

The Greens, who will set out their proposals in a motion at tomorrow’s council meeting, would also reverse a “disastrous” decision to stop lighting repairs in 10,000 tenement stairs. They propose a £1m scheme to upgrade tenements to LED lights, saving both energy costs and repair bills.

And they want to use some of the extra money to reduce pressures in future years through a “Save for the Future” programme which would invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy and waste prevention to reduce the council’s £23m combined energy and landfill bill.

Green finance spokesman Councillor Gavin Corbett said: “We can and should head off some of the worst cuts to services which people in Edinburgh hold dear. However, we should also spend wisely just now to create extra savings in the future.

“The Green budget motion tackles pressure on community services like libraries, swimming pools and schools. It seeks to protect the interests of our lowest-income citizens. And it invests in services which build for the future.”

The council’s Labour-SNP administration has not yet said how it plans use the extra £10m.

The budget agreed last year included £40m worth of cuts to be implemented in 2017/18 and the coalition has said a further £11m are also needed.

Its budget plan include a three per cent increase in the council tax and investment of £12m in repairs to North Bridge, £12.7m for a new South Edinburgh primary school and £7.9m for the new Meadowbank sports centre.

Finance convener Alasdair Rankin has said any extra spending proposals would be considered later this month.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com