Every week I seem to be writing about cuts and reductions to services in Hartlepool that affect people in the town.
Last week it was cuts to young people’s help to continue to study for Education Maintenance Allowance. This week, I want to refer to the proposed cuts in the town’s library services.
Earlier in the week there was a debate in Parliament about library services, and I spoke to highlight the difficulty that is faced in Hartlepool.
We are fortunate in Hartlepool to have a well-used and much-loved library network.
Half the town’s population regularly use their library in some form or another.
I have fond memories of learning to love books as a child by borrowing them from the Owton Manor library in Wynyard Road, and then of doing my A-level revision in the old central library, now the Leadbitter Buildings, where I had access to great books, research papers and former examination questions.
My eldest son Benjamin is now using the central library’s resources for his own A-level work.
Across the town, we have libraries as great community hubs, offering important services in areas like Foggy Furze, Owton Manor, Seaton Carew, Throston, West View and the Headland.
We have a mobile service, as well as the Home Library Service for people with disabilities or for those aged over 80.
In the debate in Parliament I mentioned two important things for Hartlepool.
First, the close partnership between libraries and nurseries, schools, Sure Start and Children’s Centres has undoubtedly meant that reading skills of Hartlepool children have grown in the last 15 years.
This provides the prospect of a much brighter future for the town. Secondly, the role of libraries as community centres enhances the quality of life.
The Home Library Service meets with older and vulnerable people on a regular basis, and provides a social outlet which in itself can be an invaluable contact, particularly for those who are not able to get out and about.
The local authority is contemplating closing Foggy Furze library, as well as merging Throston library with its community centre.
These are hard decisions that will impact upon the quality of life for many people in the town.
In the Parliamentary debate, however, I didn’t blame local politicians. I blamed the Government, who are forcing through the harshest levels of cuts that Hartlepool has ever seen.
I can see why, when they are forced to make cuts of 30 per cent to the £90 million budget, and when they have to make sure that elderly people are protected in social care and vulnerable children are safeguarded to stop abuse, libraries may be seen by the local authority as a regrettable but essentially soft target.
Cutting of libraries will be a real shame. By cutting from the library budget in order to save a relatively small amount overall, Hartlepool will be losing so much.
The town will be so much the poorer for a reduced level of library provision, when we have had one of the best in the country.
Social progress, fairness and community links will be under threat. These are the difficult decisions that have to be made in the face of such far reaching Government cuts, but I’m sure people feel as angry as I do about the cuts to front-line services.