Western Isles Council has ditched a move to base rural libraries in community hubs.
Councillors voted 16-12 to retain the existing mobile library van service following a lengthy and tense debate last night.
In October, a similar motion was defeated but now the council will buy two new vans – one for Lewis and Harris and the other earmarked for Uist – which could double up as a council service point.
For years, the decision was controversially put off, latterly when an option emerged to deliver the service through community hubs to save £177,000.
Officials maintain there is a “clear majority” in support of the community hubs idea which offers an “innovative approach” to rural service delivery.
They claimed small, district libraries would be developed around schools and other community facilities with a smaller scale van service in some areas.
A council report said: “Further community engagement is required to fully explore the mix of options and enable the community to make an informed decision on the proposal.”
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The council has a quote of £122,000 for a replacement vehicle and reckon it may be able to negotiated two vehicles for the available cash.
Councillor John Mitchell, who led the charge for the mobile library vans, slammed the “council’s definition of majority” as a “joke.”
He said it was now time to act having avoided the issue over the “lifeline service” for the housebound for several years.
His claim of “phoney arithmetic” being presented to councillors attracted the wrath of council leader Roddie Mackay.
Mr Mackay said: “That’s seriously below the belt,”
He pointed out the delay had a financial saving as the original quarter of a million pounds price estimate had actually dropped over the period.
He urged colleagues to “act responsibly in challenging times”, highlighting the vans will have running costs which would impact on other services.
Donald Crichton warned that making a decision now “completely undermined” the present consultation process over budget savings.
He said district hub libraries “offers the best of both worlds by being closer to communities and having an element of a mobile van service in some shape or form”.
This, he added, would save cash at a time budgets are under pressure.
Councillor Alasdair Macleod warned the council was being forced to “do more with less” money so the hub idea should be further explored.
Given the “harsh reality” of the cost of buying new vehicles, Councillor Angus Morrison said the issue should be deferred for a period, stressing “no councillor wants to do away with library vans as they reach out to isolated people”.