ANDY MOFFATT - Closing another chapter

Hugo Chavez gives actor Hollywood Sean Penn a message for former US president George W Bush
Hugo Chavez gives actor Hollywood Sean Penn a message for former US president George W Bush

IF knowledge is power, why are St Helens’ excellent libraries being forced to swallow drastically reduced opening times?

St Helens Council, in its wisdom, has decided that lopping off around 20 per cent of time they open will save them some cash.

You can hardly blame them, though, can you.

With the kind of vicious grant cuts they’ve had to take, it is a small wonder more services haven’t been hit harder.

But is closing our libraries two or three hours early really going to make such a great dent in the gapping hole in the council’s budget?

They estimate they will save £145,000 a year. Not exactly small change, but a veritable drop in the £14m ocean of grant reduction currently being puzzled over by town hall bean-counters.

Distinguished children’s author and former Prescot primary school teacher Alan Gibbons believes the council are wrong to cut opening times. He’s right to be concerned.

Libraries are the place where a life-long love of reading and learning often begin.

They are the places where parents who don’t have oodles of cash can get hold of all manner of books which would otherwise be denied their children.

It’s where the hard-working young student can discover the joys of literature.

Of course in tough times, tough choices must be made. But once a service is reduced, it rarely goes into reverse.

In other words, when will it again become top of the agenda for library opening times to increase? You might be waiting a long time for the answer to that one.

g HUGO Chavez , the recently deceased Venezuelan president, was a divisive sort of chap, wasn’t he. He was lauded by some for calling George Bush a donkey and a devil.

Who, after all, can forget his UN assembly quip that the then American president had left the room stinking of sulphur.

But once the laughter and peculiar oil deals with Ken Livingston were over, Chavez’s supporters still have to answer the deathly concerns human rights group levelled against their hero’s regime.

Human Rights Watch reported he’d presided over a “weakening of Venezuela’s democratic system” and “contributed to a precarious human rights situation”.

He happily clamped down on vocal opponents, legislated by decree and curtailed free speech.

Makes you wonder then, why Hollywood actor Sean Penn chose to bag himself a front seat at Chavez’s state funeral and so further inflate a self-evidently oppressive regime. Were the Venezuelan peoples’ right to basic human rights trumped in Penn’s tiny mind by an overweening desire to strut the world stage, posturing as a free-thinking, anti-American radical? I can’t possibly answer that one.

That same sense of hyprocracy was in evidence at Chavez’s funeral where Hollywood actor sat mournfully alongside Iran president Acmoud A.

It unclear whether Penn, who won an Oscar for his portrayal gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk, felt uneasy sharing public wailing time with AA, a man who has presided over a brutal regime.