MP for North Swindon

Justin Tomlinson MP

Stratton Outlook Monthly Article

 

I recently secured my first Westminster Hall debate, for which I chose the subject of ‘The Future of Library Provision’. I have seen firsthand just how vital local libraries such as the Upper Stratton and Covingham libraries are to local communities and I am determined to support efforts to enhance and improve these facilities.


I set out a proactive case for supporting our vital community libraries, through enhancing the book stock, opening times and library environment, and seeking to share services and costs with other services to meet the local community’s needs. These changes would be funded through switching costs from the back office, as I was staggered to learn that nationally only 7.5% of library expenditure is actually spent on book stock.
 

Whilst the debate focused on the national picture, I was able to highlight our excellent local library service, in particular the examples of the new Central Library and the fantastic move for the Old Town library into the Arts Centre. The debate was a very effective way to give the issue a higher profile, but the challenge now is to ensure the community gets the right library service for the 21st century.
As part of Conservative plans to see Council Tax frozen, the government is bringing forward a number of measures to help make this possible.
 

Firstly, we have increased flexibility for councils by freeing up the ring-fencing of local authority budgets. It is essential that Swindon Council continues to review their priorities, which can now be set by local residents and not some remote politician or quango. If residents don’t want it, why bother?
 

Secondly, we are making both Government and Council expenditure more transparent. In the case of Swindon Council, all expenditure over £500 will have to be published from January and the salaries of the top managers made public. This will allow local residents to fully scrutinise expenditure. Huge amounts of work have been carried out by the Council in recent years to stamp out waste and mismanagement, helping identify £45m worth of efficiency savings. However, as with any large organisation, there will still be plenty more examples which residents can help root out. As well as the public, staff right through the organisation should be offered incentives to identify waste and find savings.
 

Thirdly, where the Council is investing capital money – spending real cash on particular projects – they should be seeking opportunities to either generate revenue or help to deliver services more efficiently.
 

I will continue to do all I can to support both fellow local residents and Swindon Council to deliver low Council Tax.
 

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