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Council leader joins protests against library funding cuts
DAVID Cameron’s election agent joined protests against library funding cuts in West Oxfordshire.
Barry Norton, also leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, called on Oxfordshire County Council not to cut all funding to North Leigh Library on Saturday.
The council wants to axe all cash for 20 out of 43 branches. It has called on volunteers and charities to take over, but some fear closures.
Protests also took place in under-threat branches in Charlbury, Stonesfield, and Bampton, where broadcaster Kirsty Young led the demonstration.
Mr Norton said: “I’ve used this facility for more than 50 years, and I’m very happy to add my support to keep the libraries open.
“I well understand the problems faced by the county council, nevertheless I have asked them to look again at their budgets and find the money needed to protect the library service, which plays a vital role in a modern, civilised society.”
He joined more than 200 people at the Park Road library, and warned it would be “very difficult” to re-open if it closes. The demonstration was part of a nationwide Save Our Libraries day.
Mr Norton, who represents North Leigh on the district council, added: “If it all falls on the local community we may or may not be able to afford it. I don’t know.”
Judith Wardle, a member of Friends of North Leigh Library, said: “I was surprised, given that he’s David Cameron’s election agent, which as far as I’m concerned means he’s going against Tory policy.” She said of the “exhilarating” event: “It made me feel, in a way I haven’t done in a long time, that people really do value their community.”
Kirsty Young joined more than 200 people at the Church View branch in Bampton.
Co-organiser Jane Wallace said: “It really showed the weight of public feeling in this village.”
Another 200 packed Charlbury’s Market Street library for readings by authors such as Valerie Holden and Christopher Betts.
Friends of Charlbury Library chairman Amanda Epps said: “We were quite overwhelmed with the support we got. People were so angry at the thought of it closing, and their support is really encouraging that we’re doing the right thing.”
She said she feared the loss of qualified staff.
More than 80 residents gathered at Stonesfield Library.
Stonesfield Library Action Group chairman, Sarah Drew, said: “There were absolutely loads of people there. We were stunned.
“You realise how many people it’s going to affect if they close it.”
Novelists Philip Pullman and Mark Haddon took part in demonstrations in other parts of the county.
David Cameron last week said: “Dealing with the huge deficit we inherited is the single most important step towards recovery and growth, and our councils must take their fair share of difficult decisions. I would hope that no libraries would need to close, but this is a matter for the county council, and I do know that they are working with our communities to find the best way forward for all our libraries.”
The cuts would save the council £2m over four years, as part of a £119m savings plan. It would offer £600,000 for “Big Society” projects, including libraries.
A final decision will be made on February 15.