PENARTH councillors clashed during a heated debate over proposed changes to the library service last night, October 30.

Councillors warned that staffing community libraries with volunteers without specialist knowledge, cutting opening hours and the book fund would damage the library service.

Conservative councillor Anthony Ernest, who represents the Plymouth ward, said that the Vale Council should look to make cuts to other services rather than libraries.

But in a passionate response labour councillor Gwyn Roberts, who represents the St Augustine’s ward, said that the Vale Council was determined not to close libraries and that it had put forward the proposed library strategy in a bid to save libraries.

He argued that as funding for social services and education was ring fenced from the government the local authority was forced to make cuts to the library service as it had no other choice.

He said the Vale Council had not put forward the library strategy “on a whim”, but was looking to cut costs and meet budgets.

He was backed by fellow labour councillor Tracey Alexander, who argued that the Vale Council had to think “creatively” to meet budgets and provide solutions to problems.

Councillor Alexander, who represents the Cornerswell ward, said: “Up and down the country they are closing libraries, but the Vale Council are doing a good job and the best they can with the restrictive budget they have got. They are not closing libraries, they are providing solutions. “

A report before the policy and finance committee stated that due to cuts in public sector funding the Vale Council was undertaking public engagement on three proposed changes to the library service. Eleven of the 14 recommendations from the review of the Library Strategy have already been approved and implemented.

The councillors were set to discuss three further changes to the library service, that include: the development of community supported/managed libraries at Dinas Powys, Sully, St Athan, Wenvoe and Rhoose; cuts to library opening hours in a bid to track user footfall and ensure efficiency of libraries; and relocating library services in St Athan.

Town clerk Shan Bowden said that the main change for Penarth Library would be the change in opening hours, which is currently open between 9.30am and 6pm Monday to Wednesday, 9.30am until 8pm on Thursday, 9.30am until 6pm on Friday, and 9am until 5pm on Saturday.

Cllr Anthony Ernest said that he had friends in Sully and Dinas Powys, where there are proposals for ‘community managed’ libraries, that were concerned about the libraries relying on volunteers.

“They are asking members of the public to give up their time to act as volunteers for many hours a week,” he said.

“They will be given training but need to be supported. There will be costs in training volunteers, and how many people will be willing to give up hours per week in busy libraries?

“They might be smaller libraries but they are still busy.”

He added: “Put simply the Vale should find savings elsewhere. They are a very valuable resource and a lot of people feel very strongly about this.”

He added that the Vale Council “has got to be aware of the public anger”.

Conservative Councillor Clive Williams, who represents the Plymouth ward, said that when the budget is cut you look at areas where you can save.

He said that rather than cutting open hours the council should be considering how to maximise the service by providing additional facilities.

Councillor Gwyn Roberts, in a heated response, said: “The Vale Council has not on a whim decided to cut the service of the library.”

He said that the authority couldn’t change funds that went into education and social services, which made up three quarters of the budget.

“There’s a huge determination of Vale members to keep library services going at all costs to do without money,” he said.

“I recognise this huge effort to keep libraries going without any money.”

Labour Councillor Neil Thomas, who represents the Cornerswell ward, said that he welcomed the library strategy as it showed the Vale Council was “committed” to keeping Penarth Library open as it had agreed to invest £88,000 to “repair the building and stop leaking”.

He added that he had a “pragmatic” approach to the cuts in opening hours to the library as “studies show there is nobody going in at certain times”.

Fellow Labour councillor Rosemary Cook, who represents the St Augustine’s ward, said: “I have been a lover of libraries all my life and like so many residents in Penarth I know these services are absolutely essential, but some compromise has got to be found.”

She added that the library consultation was very supportive, but with austerity measures they needed to “think very carefully of the service for the future”.