A CALL to suspend online consultation over proposals to cut funding to Ledbury Library and have it run by volunteers has led to a sharp response from the leader of Herefordshire Council.

Nina Shields, chairman of the Ledbury Library Development Group believes the present online consultation, set to end on October 9, needs to be suspended and replaced with "real" consultation involving her group and others.

In a letter to Cllr Tony Johnson, the council leader, Ms Shields said: "It should not be necessary to point out that you work for and on behalf of the residents of Herefordshire. Therefore, please will you now suspend the on line consultation process and enable real consultation to take place with your staff, user groups and all interested members of the public and local residents?"

Ms Shields said of the online consultation process:"It is difficult to believe that you are serious about this – unless you think seeking endorsement for your plans equates to consultation.

"There continues to be a strong belief that you will not take account of residents’ views. Why have you ignored user groups, where they exist? The example I know best is the library service where there is a lively network of user groups across the county. None were consulted prior to the launch of this information on your website."

She added: "I am finding that local residents want to be more than a ‘pressure group’. We want to help find better solutions than have been put forward on your website. The consultation questionnaire does not allow for this."

Cllr Johnson, in response to Ms Shields' letter said: "User groups have not been ignored. We already have several communities running their libraries with volunteers supported by librarians at Hereford. This has proved a successful model and we are keen to identify any areas where this might be replicated.

"We continue to promote on our homepage and have been conducting a roadshow around the county, with multiple opportunities to talk to councillors in Hereford city, Bromyard, Kington, Ledbury, Leominster and Ross-on-Wye."

Cllr Johnson added: "You seem to think I needed reminding that I work for Herefordshire. It may not have been your intention, but I find the imputation that I am motivated by other than public service offensive. My responsibility is for the whole range of council work in the context of financial reality, not just libraries.

"We will continue with the consultation in its present form for the above reasons and would ask you to help by encouraging as many people as possible to respond. We will do everything we can to preserve important services like libraries but would ask you to recognise that there simply is no longer enough money to maintain support for everything at previous levels."

Both Cllr Johnson and Ms Shields made their letters available to the Ledbury Reporter.

Whatever the outcome of the consultation, the views of the Heritage Lottery Fund will have to be taken on board: because of grant-funding for the recent £2.9m restoration of the library building, The Master's House.

Cllr Johnson said: "A grant was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund to refurbish the Masters House in Ledbury to enable a range of services to be delivered from the centre.

"Any options for Ledbury Customer Service Centre and Library, which emerge from the consultation, will be discussed in detail with relevant partners and funders, and this has been confirmed with the Heritage Lottery Fund."