Monday, 9 July 2012

Let me pay my share!

Apologies for irregular posts. I am not losing interest in the blog - I have lost connection with technology!

I have a few days of annual leave and am floating up and down the River Thames, eating and drinking to excess. Sadly, rivers being the lowest point of any landscape, mobile and internet connections are generally poor.

Today I am in Windsor and posting this from the library - which bring my nicely onto one of my favourite rants. Why we continue to fund libraries the way we do.

Two years ago there was an perfectly pleasant and usable internet cafe in Windsor. Some chap had invested in a lease, bought the equipment and opened a small business. Last year, he was gone and the shop boarded up. I spoke to the man in the newsagents next door. The reason he (internet cafe man) went under was the local (taxpayer funded) library had expanded it's IT section and provided the service free of charge. I went to the library to use the facilities as there was nowhere else. Eighteen brand new computers in a row, of which only five were being used. I asked if I could use a machine and explained that I was not a resident of the Royal Borough, but was willing to pay. "Of no need for that" said the librarian. Would you like an hour or two hours? "An hour will do, but I would like to pay..." "Oh, don't worry. It's a free service..." And there's the problem - it's not free. The Council Tax payers of Windsor and Maidenhead - many on lower incomes than me - are paying for it.

Today I am back, and I am pleased to see in the age of austerity they have introduced charges for non-residents, but the token charge (50p) is not in any way a commercial rate.

Even now, when every local authority is cutting services, the old and poor of this Borough are still subsidising me to use the internet (whilst our £45,000 boat is moored alongside the river bank). It's wrong. Today the 18 computers are still in a row, and I am the only user.  Sitting behind me at several scattered tables are a collection of middle class retired gentlemen reading free copies of broadsheet newspapers, which they could easily afford to buy.    A lady has just entered and asked to use the photocopier. I heard her tell the librarian that at 5p a copy it's half the price of the local photocopy shop.   

In many libraries the establishment costs and salaries are so high that it costs more to lend a book than to buy it new.

Next time we hear of a cash-strapped council trying to close down or merge a local library, instead of signing petitions and writing letters of disgust to the local press, perhaps we should spare a thought for the internet cafe owner in Windsor who lost his business due to municipal do-goodery.  Or to the owner of the photocopy shop which is losing profit as the taxpayer funded library can undercut him as they don't need to cover their capital costs. Or the local newsagent whose newspaper and magazine sales are falling because the family on a breadline in the poorest end of Maidenhead are paying more Council Tax than they need to pay so retired colonels in Windsor can read the Telegraph free of charge.   Even spare a thought for a relatively comfortably-off boat owner who is able and willing to pay his fair share but isn't allowed to do so.

Or perhaps we should just admit that libraries are a relic of a bygone age and turn them all into community-run trusts, thus freeing the hard pressed taxpayers (most of whom use the services least) from the obligation of paying for them?

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