Council Leader defends the position in relation to library provisions locally.

South Lanarkshire Council leader has defended the area's library provision following an open letter which called out the potential closure of services. v.1
Council leader Joe Fagan defended the council's positionCouncil leader Joe Fagan defended the council's position
Council leader Joe Fagan defended the council's position

South Lanarkshire’s council leader is defending the area’s library services after an open letter stated that it had the “worst public library provision in Scotland”.

Joe Fagan has responded to an open letter distributed by the CEO of the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) which warned the council leader of the devastating impacts that could come if cuts to library services went ahead.

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In the open letter, Pamela Tulloch from SLIC, pointed out that if the council potentially closed the planned seven local libraries, it would have a “hammer blow” effect.

She also called for the council to use funds from the Scottish Government to support maintaining public library services in South Lanarkshire.

She wrote: “The fate of South Lanarkshire Libraries as part of South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture’s budgeting setting process is particularly disappointing given the information outlined in this letter. It will leave the people of South Lanarkshire with the poorest public library provision in Scotland – the average being 2.04 libraries for every 20,000 of the population and South Lanarkshire residents will be left with 0.99 libraries for every 20,000 of the population. An extremely damaging result for a large local authority area with great challenges.

“In fact, South Lanarkshire is the only local authority area in Scotland to suffer public library closures as part of the 2024/25 budget setting process, all other local authorities have found ways to maintain their public library services in spite of the budget challenges and in recognition of what local libraries mean to local people.”

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The potential library closures include Halfway Library, Cambuslang Library, Greenhills Library, Blantyre Library and Hillhouse Library.

Bothwell Library has been protected from closure and Forth Library will be moved from its current location at Forth Primary to the nearby Willie Waddell Sports and Community Centre.

Councilor Fagan has defended the services across the area, saying that the number of potential library closures has been reduced and funding has been set aside to protect more from closure.

He said: “No attempt was made by the Scottish Library and Information Council or the SNP to fact-check the content of this open letter with the council or my administration.

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“Had they done so, they would have learned that, far from grand-standing, the interventions I put forward earlier this year already appear to have already saved two libraries from closure and our reprovisioning work is still moving at pace.

“This organisation has blundered into a debate about library services locally and, by doing so, have shown real disrespect to everyone working flat-out to maintain as much of our library provision as possible against the backdrop of brutal funding cuts to councils imposed by an anti-council, anti-community Scottish Government.

“I understand that our work to mitigate the impact of funding cuts at SLLC has already reduced the number of at-risk libraries from seven to five and our work is not yet complete. South Lanarkshire therefore will not have the lowest proportion of libraries per head in Scotland, and indeed provision will be similar to those of neighbouring authorities, such as Glasgow and North Lanarkshire, at the very least.

“Our Future Libraries Fund, our £1 million Community Fightback Fund and revised savings agreed as part of the council’s budget this year will help us reprovision or relocate more services. The council and SLLC will continue to work with local communities to develop reprovisioning options for their areas and offset the impact of spending cuts further.

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“All of this could have been explained to this organisation before their inaccurate and unfair open letter was issued, if only they had the good sense and courtesy to fact-check their analysis with us first. I appreciate this will be embarrassing for the organisation concerned but I hope they have learned their lesson and can engage with the council in future in good faith. We welcome constructive challenge and partnership but sadly that is not what this open letter represented and I hope they will reflect on their position now.”

Opposition parties have also called out the potential closure of local libraries.

Depute Leader of the SNP group, councillor Maureen Chalmers, who represents Blantrye ward which is potentially losing their library, voiced her concern.

She said: “SLIC’s conclusions about the state of library services in South Lanarkshire could not be clearer, and they pull no punches in putting the ball firmly in the administration’s court to sort this mess out.

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“The administration continue to hand over vast sums of money to the leisure trust and ignore what SLIC have described as ‘alarm bells’ about how that service is being managed under a business model that is ‘not fit for purpose’.

“South Lanarkshire is the only local authority in Scotland facing cuts to library services this year and it is now absolutely clear there is no evidence to support that decision.

“The council leader and his coalition partners can no longer ignore their statutory duties, the expressed priorities of the public and the needs of our communities.”

And the group’s education spokesperson, councillor Katy Loudon, added: “We’ve already lost mobile library provision, we’ve already lost school librarians through the administration’s budget, and SLIC’s research shows that rural schools are expressing concerns about the lack of access to reading materials for children.

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“Other communities’ services are now standing at the cliff edge, and this can’t continue.

“I completely agree with Ms Tulloch’s characterisation of the ‘grandstanding words’ Councillor Fagan has been using to describe the so-called Future Libraries Fund – which she points out from SLIC’s experience would barely cover the relocation of one library, let alone supporting ‘alternative’ provision for seven.

“SLIC’s research exposes the administration’s plans as the sham they are – they have failed to ask questions, failed to act responsibly with public money, failed to seek legal advice, and are failing the residents of South Lanarkshire.

“I’ve already tried to raise my concerns about the impact of the closures, and ask questions on behalf of my constituents, by writing to Cllr Fagan and was basically told to go and put my questions to council officers. If he won’t listen to us, hopefully he’ll listen to this expert, independent research”.

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In response to opposition’s comments, councillor Fagan said: “It is no wonder the SNP is in freefall and that politics is getting a bad name, when even relatively senior SNP councillors do not check the most basic of facts.

“The remarks from Scottish Libraries and Information Council are based on a series of errors and misunderstandings about a fast-moving situation, which South Lanarkshire Council have now clarified with their chief executive. It is disappointing, though sadly not surprising, that the local SNP have repeated basic errors in order to attack their political opponents.

“As ever, they haven’t done their homework. Instead of hurling desperate smears, the SNP should check their facts. We cannot reinstate every penny the government have cut from our council’s budget but we will do what we can to protect as many of our vital local services as we believe is possible.

“Almost 80 per cent of South Lanarkshire Council’s revenue budget is funded by the SNP Government and that budget is subject to core funding cuts. The community have had enough of the SNP spin and, they want their politicians to work together to undo the damage of 17 years of SNP misrule in Scotland. My administration is working to find alternatives to library closures, wherever possible, and to mitigate the impact of SNP council funding cuts on our communities.

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“We urge SNP councillors, if they care about libraries more than the collapsing reputation of their failing government, to stand up for South Lanarkshire and demand a fair funding deal for our local services. If we want to rebuild local services, we have to reverse Scottish Government cuts to council funding.

“I would remind the community that every time the SNP opposition have had the chance to put forward a costed proposal on South Lanarkshire’s Budget, they have brought forward proposals that would leave us all grappling with an even bigger black-hole in future years. That ultimately means more cuts to valued local services if SNP councillors had their way, not less.

“This is no time for the unpleasant, juvenile, blame-shifting politics of desperate and uninformed SNP councillors, it is time for fearless opposition to the SNP MSPs and Ministers who have repeatedly voted to impose worsening financial settlements on councils across Scotland. If you can’t trust the SNP to stand up to their own government, then you certainly can’t trust them to deliver for your local libraries.”

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