DfC issues strongly worded statement on cuts

The committee of Darlington for Culture met tonight (Friday Feb 5) to discuss Darlington Borough Council’s budget proposals and the damage they will do to the social cohesion of the town. We are outraged by the Government’s swingeing spending settlement and are throwing our full support behind The Northern Echo’s online petition to call for a Parliamentary debate on the spending targets that necessitated cuts to many crucially important services (to be found at http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/business/14255052.Sign_the_petition_to_save_Darlington_from_crippling_spending_cuts/)
However, the DfC committee does not believe that the council should be completely absolved from blame and deplores the proposed closure of Crown Street and Cockerton Libraries and the withdrawal of the mobile library service. We remain to be convinced that the proposed replacement library in the Dolphin Centre will be anywhere near an adequate replacement.
It is no surprise that the proposals to close libraries have sparked anger and Darlington for Culture will oppose these cuts because libraries are not just important cultural institutions but socially valuable and about much more than books.
For readers, libraries are an important part of many people’s lives, enabling them to access books without having to pay for them, allowing people of all ages and all backgrounds to add richness to their lives. In addition, many children access books at libraries, supporting what often becomes a lifelong passion for reading.
Closing Crown Street and Cockerton will adversely affect the lives of thousands of people, including the diverse groups that use these valuable community resources. Libraries host a wide range of community services and groups and all this is threatened. The computers contained in both libraries are a lifeline for many people who use them to apply for jobs, apply for benefits and access information.
The proposal to scrap the mobile library alarms us as well because of the service it provides to schools and isolated communities.
In addition, we fear that the decision will result in the loss of the town’s art gallery, which currently resides in Crown Street Library and which has attracted many thousands of people to view a wide variety of works of art.
We will also be asking the council why, as has been reported, it is necessary to use savings from cuts to the library service to help fund the restoration of Darlington Civic Theatre. While we support the restoration of the Civic, indeed we submitted a letter in support of the bid for Heritage Lottery Funding, we remain concerned that the borough’s much loved library facilities may be sacrificed to plug an apparent gap about which we certainly had heard nothing.
In the case of Cockerton Library, Darlington Borough Council has had several opportunities to work with the community over the past three years in order to devise a future for the Library and has failed to take advantage of them. Darlington for Culture has been one of the organisations ready to help with the right support and has been involved in many of the discussions. We urge the council to renew efforts to seek ways of working in partnership with the community to keep the library open because it is an important service for the people of Cockerton and neighbouring areas.
We urge the council to look again at its proposals to close Cockerton Library and to reconsider its proposals for the library service in general.
We also view with dismay the proposals to sell off or close the covered market which is such an important building in the town.
We will be urgently seeking answers from the council to all these issues and the apparent gap in the Theatre’s finances. We will also be seeking clarity on whether further cuts to arts and culture are buried in the small print.
Darlington for Culture is an organisation owned and run by individual and organisational members across the town. We will be calling a special meeting of our members to discuss how we proceed in the face of these devastating cuts.