Councillors must follow the public lead

Moray Councillors are to meet in a special session where it is hoped that they will finally listen to the will of the public and reverse plans to close seven public libraries.

A final decision on the future of local libraries in Burghead, Hopeman, Portknockie, Cullen, Rothes, Dufftown and Findochty was due to be taken at a full council meeting next week – but such has been the level of public angst the local authority has now said that the decision will be delayed until later this month.

There was immediate anger in communities throughout the region when the Council voted in February to close the seven libraries as part of their £30m cost-saving measures, a decision that reached far from Moray’s borders as people throughout the UK rose to protest.

A march was held through one of the affected communities, Burghead, which was supported by local MP Angus Robertson and MSP Richard Lochhead, who have both held meetings with senior council administration leaders.

While it appeared that nothing would change the path chosen by the administration, they were forced into undertaking a detailed consultation exercise to establish what effect the closures might have on specific groups, including elderly or disabled residents and those living in more remote parts of Moray.

That resulted in over 1750 letters and emails being submitted for consideration, with the council admitting that they had also had a significant number of communications seeking information either informally or under freedom of information legislation.

Confirming their decision on Friday, a Moray Council spokesman said: “In view of the public interest in this issue it has been decided to defer consideration until elected members are in possession of all the necessary information.”

Officials will use the additional time to prepare a full report for Councillors ahead of a special meeting later in August.

Last month councillors took the decision to delay another controversial part of their budget plans, the closure of around half the public toilet facilities in Moray.

Campaigners in Burghead wrote a final appeal for a rethink to Moray Council’s Chief Executive, Roddy Burns, last month, which concluded: “It is our hope that Moray Council will realise that the plan to close libraries requires a rethink every bit as much as the decision to close public toilets.

“The position is that the Community Council and Save Burghead Library Campaign have a clear mandate from the people of Burghead to use every available avenue to resist the closure of our local library, to the point of taking our case to the Public Services Ombudsman.”