Lib Dems pledge help to libraries in bid to distance themselves from Labour cuts

Liberal Democrats have pledged to halt planned cuts to library opening hours and plough extra cash into supporting volunteers to run the much-loved reading rooms, as they laid out alternative budget plans for Camden Council.

A year into the biggest programme of spending cuts in a generation, Lib Dem and Conservative councillors tried to distance themselves from more controversial aspects of the council’s austerity programme as they unveiled their alternative plans.

The Lib Dems praised residents who had stepped up to help run the libraries and pledged an extra �350,000 for Camden’s reading rooms at a full council meeting at the Town Hall on Monday (February 27).

Lib Dem Cllr Russell Eagling said: “A library with a closed notice on the door is no good to anyone.

“Libraries are a universal service used by all different people across the whole community can meet, learn and improve their life chances, they must be supported.”

He added: “Our extra money to support voluntary groups shows a sense of commitment to them. They have been given no safety net by this council. They have been left on their own to sink or swim.”

Camden’s recent announcement that �2million would be invested in a new Camden Partnership for Educational Excellence, headed by ex-Ofsted head Mike Tomlinson, also came under fire.

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The Lib Dems proposed to slash half the cash going to the body, and instead hand over �1million to schools to support their neediest pupils.

Cllr Andrew Mennear, leader of Camden Conservatives, also warned Labour risked “creating a quango it could lose control of”.

He said the Conservatives would reverse controversial cuts to luncheon clubs, provide extra nursery places and police, and review the pay and benefits of all council staff.

The money for this would be found by embarking on a large advertising contract for businesses to project their brand on local landmarks, including Camden Lock, Camden market and the Town Hall.

He said: “Our budget proposed to promote growth and unleash Camden’s entrepreneurial spirit all across the borough while helping those, young and old, who wish to improve their skills.”

None of the proposals received the backing of the Labour majority, but finance chief Cllr Theo Blackwell said he would go through the proposals in detail.

He said the council had balanced its budget to 2014 by “adopting a long term approach that doesn’t leave the vulnerable behind”.