OVERSPENDING and phone box libraries were up for discussion at Swindon Council’s final meeting before the election.
The scrutiny committee was the last major gathering the council will hold ahead of the May 5 vote, and it shone a spotlight on a range of topics.
But deputy leader Garry Perkins (Con., Freshbrook and Grange Park) was spared a grilling for the second time in a row.
Coun Perkins, facing re-election on May 5, was supposed to face questioning two weeks ago about how well he is managing to regenerate the town but this was called off.
And then, last night, it was postponed once again because of a diary mix-up.
Instead, the committee pored over other areas, including the £3m overspend racked up by some council departments.
Chairman Kevin Small (Lab., Western) asked why children’s services came in under budget, while adult social care spent £2.2m more than expected.
Coun Perkins replied that residents were simply living longer.
He said: “Children have a finite age of nought to 19 – adults don’t.
“It is about that open-endedness which is the main problem when trying to compare the two budgets.”
And finance chief Coun Mark Edwards (Con., St Margaret) said: “It just is that unpredictability of demand we’re struggling with, but we are not the only
council struggling in this area.”
And Coun Fionuala Foley (Con., Old Town and Lawn) also faced questions over why her leisure department overspent
its target by £1m. She said: “I don’t want anyone to go away thinking leisure dropped the ball. They certainly haven’t.
“The last few years’ performance is up but we overestimated what we thought we could achieve. The downturn means people haven’t been spending.”
And she suggested a radical new way of providing libraries to rural communities.
“I know of a village (Brinkworth) with a defunct red phone box,” she said.
“It doesn’t have a phone any more but it does have a book collection. Some villages may say: we don’t have any facilities for a library, but we could use a defunct phone box. People may giggle, but
it’s something that’s very successfully used in the village.”