Labour slams 'disturbing outburst' by Derbyshire County Council's Tory leader

Conservative and Labour politicians in Derbyshire have become embroiled in a war of words over libraries.

Friday, 12th April 2019, 3:00 pm
Updated Friday, 12th April 2019, 3:04 pm
Barry Lewis, leader of Derbyshire County Council.
Barry Lewis, leader of Derbyshire County Council.

Barry Lewis, Tory leader at Derbyshire County Council, has accused Labour's Anne Western and Ruth George of 'blocking attempts' to allow individuals and groups to come forward to run 20 local libraries.

Councillor Western, leader of the Labour group on the council, and High Peak MP Mrs George have both categorically denied doing this - and described Coun Lewis's 'latest outburst' as 'bizarre', 'ridiculous' and 'disturbing'.

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Anne Western, leader of the Labour group on Derbyshire County Council.

'Labour is drumming up a climate of fear'

Coun Lewis said: "It seems to me Labour is actively blocking attempts to bring communities together to deliver community managed libraries (CMLs). In places like Pinxton and Clowne in Bolsover, and Hayfield in the High Peak, CMLs could be the vibrant heart of their communities, bringing people together to support their local libraries.

"Labour is drumming up a climate of fear claiming that there is a lack of support when we know there are people who want to do this and run and support their libraries but are too intimidated to come forward.

"Coun Western and Mrs George have a lot to answer for. I say to them they need to stand aside, put people before local politics and let these communities come together around their libraries."

Ruth George, Labour MP for High Peak.

He added that Labour would 'probably have shut' the 20 libraries in question and then blamed the Government if the party was in power.

'He's trying to find someone else to blame'

Coun Western responded: "Coun Lewis's latest outburst is bizarre - I certainly haven't done anything to block people or groups coming forward.

"It seems to me that Coun Lewis's plans aren’t getting the public support that he expected, so he’s trying to find someone else to blame.

"It's quite disturbing that someone holding a significant public office thinks that it is appropriate to lash out like this, with completely unfounded allegations about intimidation and speculation about what Labour might or might not have done."

Coun Western added: "The truth is that austerity is still being imposed on public services by the Conservative Government and all council services are reaching breaking point."

Mrs George said: "To accuse me and the Labour Party of blocking community attempts to manage libraries is ridiculous and unwarranted.

"The fact is that the Conservatives’ proposal for CMLs with no support is unpopular. Communities aren't able to take on libraries alongside all their other voluntary roles, as I warned Coun Lewis last year.

"He refused to listen and now he's trying to blame Coun Western and me for his own failure, when we have simply been supporting our communities - and supporting our libraries. He should stop trying to play politics just before our local elections, and actually listen to and work with communities."

She added: "The county council plans to cut all library staff and funding from four of High Peak's eight libraries in the hope that community groups would come forward to run them. It's a bad proposal, as I pointed out at the time."

'My respect for Dennis Skinner is slipping away daily'

Coun Lewis also said his respect for Dennis Skinner was 'slipping away daily' after the Bolsover MP said in the House of Commons that '20 libraries in Derbyshire are due to close completely'.

"Mr Skinner still won't speak to us, he's still stuck in the 1970s and he's still misleading the public," Coun Lewis said.

"It's shameful really."

Coun Lewis insisted no libraries would close under his watch and that work to transfer 20 of them to the community would start in the coming months.

The 20 libraries are Borrowash, Brimington, Clowne, Creswell, Duffield, Etwall, Gamesley, Hadfield, Hayfield, Holmewood, Killamarsh, Melbourne, Old Whittington, Pinxton, Somercotes, Tideswell, Whaley Bridge, Whitwell, Wingerworth, and Woodville.