Newcastle feels the chill wind that may soon blow Northern Ireland’s way?

Where I live, Newcastle Upon Tyne, there are plans afoot to cull 10 of the 18 libraries. Given that it is the young and elderly who disproportionately depend on them, this is no time to cut such a vital community service.

Libraries help create a sense of community; the public use them if it’s for getting books out to read or for job hunting on the computers provided. Ironically Newcastle is a Labour council.

It’s leader, Nick Forbes, has proven a great pioneer of austerity. He bravely decided to shut half the city’s libraries, close two respite centres for disabled people and slashed every last penny of Council funding to the city’s arts institutes.

He claims he had to do it, because the Government had reduced the council’s funding (even though the city still gets more per household than most areas) and he needed to protect services for vulnerable people.

Labour council had originally proposed a 100% cut to its support for city arts and cultural organisations, cutting its grants to museums by 50% and libraries by 60%.

It has announced an annual fund of £600,000 to support the sector which meant the cuts would be more like 50 per cent, rather than 100 per cent.

Great news. Maybe they can tell us how they did it?

Now, Harriet Harman has halted the plans of the council to slash the art budget by 100% by jumping in.

They include; closing the city pool and relocating users to nearby facilities, keeping the care centres Cheviot View and Castledene open for at least 12 months, and retaining the City Hall.

Five libraries (including Dinnington and Denton Burn), however, remain under threat of closure unless community groups or organisations take them over.

With jobs at risk, this could rise drastically if the country slips back into recession.  We’ve already seen nearby Durham and Northumberland council having agreed the first budget cuts in a serious of cuts.

Some of us wondered though – did he really need to cut 100 per cent of the arts funding and close the libraries? Were the numbers more flexible than he suggested?

Forbes was amazed at our cynicism. Yes, he assured us, such drastic cuts were absolutely necessary. With the budget happening in the next few weeks lets see what the faint is of Newcastle.