Call for rethink on council tax to save Shropshire's small libraries
A library manager has claimed council tax in larger towns needs to be revisited to help Shropshire Council fund smaller towns' libraries and save them from closure.
Mike Ashwell, manager of Enterprise House which runs Bishop's Castle Library, said the six largest towns in the county could afford to fund their own libraries through a small increase in precept, allowing Shropshire Council to better support smaller towns.
Mr Ashwell said: "Rural libraries are very important, not only in terms of providing reading material, but also free computers and activities for young kids. If we were not here, these services would not be provided.
"With the current state of the buses and the roads in south Shropshire, it is even harder for people to travel elsewhere."
Shropshire Council currently runs a three-tier system, with the future of libraries in Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Market Drayton, Whitchurch, Ludlow and Bridgnorth secured.
However, smaller libraries are proposed to move towards a cost neutral position, where they would not require any council funding - like the one in Bishop's Castle which is managed by Enterprise South West Shropshire on behalf of Shropshire Council.
Mr Ashwell said: "Many small councils in the county have gamely increased their precept, or local tax to try and keep things going, but they are at breaking point.
"Bishop’s Castle Town Council’s precept is about £215 and in Church Stretton it is £185. These compare with a local precept of only £50 in Shrewsbury and £76 in Oswestry. Bishop’s Castle has barely 1,000 taxable properties, while Shrewsbury’s population exceeds 70,000.
"An extra four pounds a year in the largest towns would easily finance the services which Shropshire Council is off-loading and they would be in a position to support the smallest or most vulnerable communities."
Bishop's Castle Town Council raised its precept a couple of years ago in order to run the leisure centre, which was also under threat of closure due to lack of council funding.
Mr Ashwell said that rural communities need support from their county council as there are less social opportunities than in larger towns.
He added: "Older people come in and quite often the only sort of human contact they have during the week is coming into the library. This interaction has a big impact on people's mental health and things.
"Shropshire Council is very supportive of us and we know its hands are quite often tied by budgets."
Lezley Picton, Shropshire Council cabinet member for culture, leisure, waste and communications, said: "The library strategy produced in 2018 concentrated on the network of libraries and detailed a three-tier level of library service provision to advise how resources would be financed and managed over a five-year period. This approach will continue to underpin funding decisions.
"Shropshire Council has received over 1,300 responses to the recent library consultation. Feedback will be used to create innovative service developments as part of a revised strategy.
"This will enable us to set out a clear vision and priorities and continue to place high quality, sustainable libraries at the heart of Shropshire communities."