By Bill Heaney
Dame Jackie Baillie appears to have accepted the closure of Balloch Library by her Labour colleagues on West Dunbartonshire Council.
Asked by The Democrat for a comment, the MSP for Dumbarton, said briefly: “Councils are facing intense budget pressures due to a real terms reduction in the block grant from the SNP Government. In West Dunbartonshire alone there was and continues to be a budget gap of £17.3 million.
“West Dunbartonshire Council is trying to protect frontline services and jobs and co-location of libraries was considered a better option than closing them completely.”
Dame Jackie, pictured right, has referred to the closure as a relocation, which 1500 residents of Balloch, Haldane, Levenvale, Old Bonhill and Jamestown are implacably opposed to and have signed a petition against.
Their view is that the Council’s move is just the first step towards closure and that it will be unsafe to have the two primary schools – St Kessog’s and Balloch PS – in the new, limited space which has been earmarked for the library.
The protesters insist the council proposal will lead to the closure of what they consider to be a community hub, the only space to accommodate such a facility in their area, which has long been designated as being deprived.
Seven of the Labour councillors who voted for closure – Martin Rooney, Michelle McGinty, David McBride, Clare Steel, June McKay, Gurpreet Singh and Hazel Sorrell.
Although the Council, through their recently appointed property manager cum spin doctor, Amanda Graham, pictured left, insisted at a special meeting of the council that there is plenty of room for a library in the schools, the young mothers and grandmothers amongst the protesters claimed they are “bursting at the seams”.
Ms Graham is said to be behind the disgraceful decision to ban the council press officers from speaking directly to The Democrat, which is preposterous in the 21st century in what is supposed to be a democratic country.
No formal decision was ever taken by the elected representatives to agree to this ban which requires us to go down the Freedom of Information route which has been stated by its recently retired director as not fit for purpose and can take months if not years to get an answer to the simplest of questions.
An informal approach to Provost Douglas McAllister to have the ban lifted did not receive the courtesy of a reply despite the fact that he promised to put the matter before a meeting of the Labour Group.
The SNP, who initially instigated the cuts imposed by the Council, have now done a U-turn and claim to support the library being kept open.
But they took cold feet and none of their councillors was prepared to come forward at the special meeting to second the Community Party’s Cllr Jim Bollan’s motion that the library should continue to operate where it is and has been for 25 years.
Cynically, the SNP were prepared to take part in a photo call outside the Council HQ in Church Street, Dumbarton, before quickly moving on to raise another question around budget cuts.
They were prepared to use the protesters, who turned out on a dark cold night to save their library, for publicity purposes but not to help them keep the library open when push came to shove.
Their leader, Cllr Karen Conaghan, pictured right, came up with the bizarre suggestion that some of the public spaces where the grass had not been cut – another vexed question for the Labour council who promised it would be when they got into power – should be allocated to local residents as allotments.
Within the past year more than £100,000 has been spent renovating and refurbishing the library, which would be a complete waste of public money were the closure to go ahead.
Although they have saved a substantial amount of money through not having to implement some of the cuts they inherited from SNP, the Labour Group appears to be entrenched in their position to close the library which they claim would be a saving of £50,000.
Unless, of course, the Council have, as some people suspect, a plan to demolish the soon to be empty library and sell the site to a developer for housing.