County Hall chiefs are to look again at the controversial decision to close more than 100 buildings, including numerous local libraries, after protests from across Lancashire.
The authority’s scrutiny committee has voted to “call in” the cost-cutting plan which is a key part of the Labour council’s strategy to cope with swingeing Government economies.
Campaigners joined county councillors from both sides of the chamber pushing for a rethink. And the scrutiny committee vote to call it in and debate it again brought loud applause from a packed meeting.
“We shall see what comes next,” said committee chairman Coun Bill Winlow.
Calls for a fresh look at the closure of libraries, children’s centres and other LCC facilities came from members of the ruling Labour group as well as the opposition Conservatives.
Libraries set to be sold off on the Fylde coast include Lytham, Freckleton, Ansdell, Thornton, and Cleveleys, with Kirkham Library earmarked for a move to a new ‘Neighbourhood Centre’ which will house multiple services in the town.
Tory leader Geoff Driver, who put forward an alternative budget earlier this year which he claimed would have avoided closing any libraries, said the 970-page report on closures had been too much for councillors to digest prior to a decision being taken.
“I’ve been involved in local government for a long time and I have never seen a report as long and complex,” he said. “To expect members to take that in and consider it in a meaningful way is asking a heck of a lot.”
But the council’s deputy leader Coun David Borrow explained the authority was facing a funding gap of £118m in 2019/20 rising to £148m in 2020/21.
“The idea that the county council would be doing any of this if there was an easy option, clearly we wouldn’t be.” He accused Coun Driver of “living in a parallel universe,” and added: “The (budget) proposal put forward by Coun Driver was a short-term fix to take us over next year’s county elections and pretend to the people of Lancashire that there was an easy way of making difficult decisions.”
The call-in will be debated at a special meeting of Lancashire County Council today.