Nimby? Cameron accused after his council halts library closures

Opposition culture spokesman says: 'It's one rule for the Tories and another set for the rest of us'

The Prime Minister was accused last night of intervening to protect his own constituents from sweeping library cuts after a last-minute reprieve was granted by Oxfordshire County Council (OCC). The Tory-run council, which had steadfastly defended its proposal to stop funding 20 of the county's 43 public libraries, last Tuesday deferred the decision until the summer.

The Labour culture spokesman, Ivan Lewis, attacked the move, saying the suggestion that Oxfordshire had received preferential treatment would appal anyone concerned about their libraries. "Local library campaigners across the country will be enraged by David Cameron's arrogance and hypocrisy, lecturing us all about the necessity of these cuts while intervening to save himself from embarrassment in his own backyard," Mr Lewis said. "It's the same old Tories: one rule for them and a different set of rules for the rest of us."

The council announced the closures in November, assuming that community groups would take over closing libraries amid the fanfare of the Big Society. Instead, thousands of people, including authors such as Philip Pullman, Colin Dexter and Mark Haddon, spoke out passionately against the Oxfordshire cuts.

The Independent on Sunday understands that Mr Cameron left the beleaguered libraries minister, Ed Vaizey, in no doubt over his annoyance at having to deal with the fallout of widespread libraries cuts in his own backyard. Councillors have hastily started exploring alternatives to closures.

Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, could have been forced to order an independent inquiry into the library cuts which, critics argue, disproportionately affect the poorest communities in the county. The main libraries in the wealthy constituencies of Witney (Mr Cameron) and Wantage (Mr Vaizey) were never under threat, though some of the smaller village libraries are. Earlier this month, Mr Cameron's election agent, Barry Norton, who is the leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, joined protesters campaigning against library cuts.

This comes at the end of a bad week for the Prime Minister, who has spent much of his time trying to defend the Big Society. While publicly insisting that councils must make their own tough decisions to achieve massive central-government imposed savings, the tens of thousands of angry library users across the country will not have gone unnoticed.

Tim Coates, the former managing director of Waterstone's, has been helping councils to reduce library overheads and admin costs to prevent closures. Mr Coates's repeated offers to help Oxfordshire to find alternative ways of saving £2m a year from the library budget were "stubbornly refused". He said: "It's obvious that the Prime Minister and Ed Vaizey have found this deeply embarrassing and have now requested the council find a way out of the mess."

More than 500 libraries are under threat or recently closed out of 4,500, according to Public Libraries News. Oxfordshire's plans are among the most drastic. Concerns about the legality of the council's decision were raised as the 20 libraries earmarked for closure were named in November, before it had conducted an assessment of local needs to ensure socially disadvantaged groups were not disproportionately affected.

Richard Stevens, a Labour councillor and solicitor, represents residents of the poor Blackbird Leys estate which was reprieved last week.

"Like with forests, I think this is about the wrath of Middle England. Oxfordshire thought Big Society would take over libraries, but they have failed to explain what this means or how it would work. This last-minute consultation means the decision, and any subsequent legal action, has been delayed until the summer."

Keith Mitchell, the leader of OCC, said he had spoken to the PM about libraries last weekend but Mr Cameron understood the council's position. "David Cameron has not brought any pressure nor any specific suggestions, other than supporting us in what we do... this is a government that leaves us to take difficult decisions whether we like it or not," Mr Mitchell said.

Spokesmen for the PM and DCMS said yesterday that they were unaware of any representations by the PM, and that it was a local matter.

Meanwhile, lawyers acting for Lewisham residents are a step closer to a legal challenge to the council's decision to shut five libraries in the face of 20,000 petition signatures. The Government was asked last Friday to order an investigation into the cuts under the Public Libraries and Museums Act.

So, what do you do for the Big Society?

The PM wants hard-pressed families to volunteer more. We asked government ministers if they walked the walk...

David Cameron

Prime Minister

I am saving my local pub and church hall.

Nick Clegg

Deputy Prime Minister

Can't say, won't say

William Hague

Foreign Secretary

Can't say, won't say

George Osborne

Chancellor of the Exchequer

I have volunteered for a number of charities in my constituency.

Kenneth Clarke

Justice Secretary

I am voluntarily putting in place policies which mean that charities are subcontracted to deliver rehabilitation programmes for ex-offenders.

Theresa May

Home Secretary

Can't say, won't say

Liam Fox

Defence Secretary

I support the Strawberry Line Café. Patron of North Somerset Mencap, Children's Hospice SW, Clevedon Pier & Heritage Trust, Portishead Lifeboat Trust.

Vince Cable

Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

I am patron of Shooting Stars Children's Hospice, Ndoro Children's Charity, PKD and Richmond Mencap.

Iain Duncan Smith

Work and Pensions Secretary

I am president/patron/trustee of 15 causes, including Chapel End Savoy Players, 27F Squadron, Motability, Prostate Cancer Charity.

Chris Huhne

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Can't say, won't say

Andrew Lansley

Health Secretary

I ran a Sunday school once for the local church. Now I tend to do things in the constituency, like the WRVS at the local hospital. (The Daily Politics, BBC2)

Michael Gove

Education Secretary

I help out in the crèche at St Mary Abbots Church. I am a supporter/patron/ fundraiser of seven groups, including Frimley Park baby unit, Help for Heroes.

Eric Pickles

Communities and Local Government Secretary

Can't say, won't say

Philip Hammond

Transport Secretary

I am joint president of Weybridge Youth Club, vice-president, Basingstoke Canal Society, patron, White Lodge Trust (for children with cerebral palsy).

Caroline Spelman

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I set up two charities in my constituency: one to help drug users and one to help the victims of domestic violence.

Andrew Mitchell

International Development

I founded the Conservatives' social action project in Rwanda and return each year to teach English. I have a long-standing involvement in charities.

Jeremy Hunt

Culture Secretary

I set up my own charity that helps children with Aids in Africa.

Owen Paterson

Northern Ireland Secretary

Can't say, won't say

Michael Moore

Secretary of State for Scotland

Can't say, won't say

Cheryl Gillan

Secretary of State for Wales

Can't say, won't say

Danny Alexander

Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I back a number of local groups. I am a supporter of the Cairngorms farmers' market. (Daily Mirror)

Baroness Warsi

Conservative Party chairman

Can't say, won't say

Lord Strathclyde

Leader of the House of Lords

Can't say, won't say

Francis Maude

Cabinet Office minister

I do – golly, what do I do? I do a whole load of things. I'm involved in my local church. Um, gosh, that's a really unfair question cold. (PM programme, Radio 4)

Oliver Letwin

Cabinet Office minister

I spend a Sunday morning a month serving at the community shop in my village – which I helped set up. I was a trustee of the Social Mobility Foundation.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn