DEVON’S mobile library services have been given a reprieve.

County councillors who voted to axe the service back in the summer have been told to think again before taking the books-on-wheels service off the road for good.

Stephen Fry, Michael Rosen and Michael Morpurgo are among the high-profile writers who backed a county-wide campaign to save the service, and nearly 9,000 people have signed a petition.

Now members of a county council scrutiny committee have voted to send the decision back for a re-think.

“Let’s not kid anybody,” said Cllr Ian Roome (Lib Dem, Barnstaple North). “It’s a cut in services because we want to reduce the budget. It would be detrimental for our rural communities.”

The county council’s cabinet decided in July that it would not be cost-effective to replace its four ageing mobile library vans after hearing that the vehicles were nearing the end of their serviceable lives and would cost up to £800,000 to replace.

But the decision was “called in” for a second debate amid a public campaign to save the mobile service.

“I am failing to grasp why we are cutting a service which is still being used,” said Cllr Roome.

The scrutiny committee was told demand for mobile libraries had dwindled during the last 10 years and a number of village stops had been removed as a result. Devon already has 50 static libraries as well as online resources and community schemes.

July’s cabinet meeting also pledged £25,000 to make sure vulnerable users could access alternative services.

But John Smith of Coldridge Parish Council told the meeting the service should be a “flagship” for the county, and the “misconceived” closure would affect thousands of people.

Cllr Jacqi Hodgson (Green, Totnes and Dartington) said axing it would be “a massive retrograde step” and Cllr Rob Hannaford (Lab, Exwick and St Thomas) warned colleagues: “When it’s gone, it’s gone, and that will be a really sad day for Devon.”

Cabinet member for libraries Cllr Roger Croad (Con, Ivybridge) said July’s decision had been one of the saddest he had ever made.

But, he said, the number of people using mobile libraries was declining sharply, and online alternatives and volunteer book deliveries were available.

“It is not my intention to remove people from books, or books from people,” he said. 

Cllr Jerry Brook (Con, Chudleigh and Teign Valley) added: “It’s about value for money, not only for library-users but also for the rest of the people in this county.

“How many of the people who signed the petition actually use the mobile libraries? If we were to ask nearly 800,000 residents in Devon if this is value for money, I think the answer might be quite interesting.”

After a series of votes on amendments, members eventually agreed to send the matter back to the cabinet, asking it to reconsider its decision to axe the libraries.

Cabinet members will be asked to get  precise figures on leasing rather than buying new vehicles, and reducing costs through crowdfunding or sponsorship.

They will also be asked to make sure alternative provision of library services is in place before any services are taken away.

Guy Henderson