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Suffolk: All libraries set to stay open

PUBLISHED: 09:58 07 July 2011

Libraries saved

Libraries saved

Archant

NO Suffolk library is to close, it will be confirmed later this month.

The county council’s cabinet is set to approve proposals to set up a new structure to run the county’s 44 libraries which could involve job losses and staff transfers.

But none of the libraries will close – and the county hopes most will see opening hours remain the same or even increase.

However the future of the county’s mobile libraries is less clear. The number of visits they make to rural communities could be cut in an attempt to reduce costs.

Cabinet member with responsibility for libraries Judy Terry said the county would be looking at three options to run the library service in future:

nAn in-house business unit similar to the Schools Library Service.

nAn external, but wholly council-owned, company.

nAn independent company managed by the county through contractual arrangements.

Mrs Terry said the second and third options would allow communities to have a significant say in how their libraries were run.

She insisted that it had always been her intention to avoid library closures if possible, but when a distinction was made between 15 “county libraries” and 29 “community libraries” earlier this year, it was widely seen that the smaller ones were under threat.

Communities felt that they were being warned that if they did not step in to run their library it would be likely to close.

Mrs Terry said the council had been delighted at the response to its consultation earlier in the year, and had taken on board the comments made.

“It was clear how much people value their libraries. We were pleased to get a strong response. There is nothing worse than having a consultation exercise and no one takes part.”

She said a number of things had become clear, but one point stood out: “Most important of all was not closing any of Suffolk’s libraries.

“We feel the proposals being put forward strike the right balance between protecting much-loved council services while finding necessary and unavoidable financial savings.”

Mrs Terry said the county needed to find savings of 30% in its library budget. It had already found 10% savings in the current year so another 20% needed to be found in the next two years.

She said: “By moving to a different structure we should be able to achieve those savings by cutting bureaucracy.”

The cabinet is expected to agree that a small number of libraries – probably about six – will be part of a pilot scheme with local people involved in the operation.

The library service has about 350 employees – equating to 163 full-time equivalents – and Mrs Terry hoped any job losses could be kept to a minimum.

She added: “We would hope that any losses could be through non-replacement as far as possible rather than people losing jobs.”

The mobile library service is looking to save about £250,000 from its £590,000 budget. This could mean some communities were visited monthly rather than their current fortnightly service, but no decision had yet been made.

Suffolk’s cabinet is due to meet on July 19 when the proposals will be debated.

It is expected to recommend that another report should be published for its meeting in November when one of the three options will be adopted as council policy.

The Labour opposition group had already tabled a motion for next week’s full meeting of the county council calling for all libraries to be kept open until at least 2013.

Libraries spokeswoman Bryony Rudkin said they may re-consider it in the light of the cabinet report – but would want to see more details of the council’s proposal.

She said: “If there is no diminution of service then that is good – but there could be problems with handing over libraries to other bodies when they are integral to other council bodies.

“For instance Stoke and Great Cornard libraries are in schools and that could be an issue.”

Mrs Rudkin was angry about the worry that communities had faced: “When you look at all the concern and fear that spread through communities, it shows up what was wrong with the New Strategic Direction.

“You have to say, though, that campaigners have fought very well to save their libraries.”

Timeline:

January 18: Public consultation into future of libraries launched, splitting 44 libraries into “county libraries” and “community libraries.”

Suggestion was the service could be “divested” to local groups, meaning the county no longer ran the service.

Many communities felt their service was threatened.

April 30: Consultation closes.

May 2: EADT reveals council has abandoned proposals to divest libraries – plans to look up setting a “community interest company” instead.

Judy Terry says: “I really hope no libraries will close.”

July 19: Cabinet set to confirm no libraries will close as it approves further consultation on three proposals.

November 8: Cabinet set to confirm future shape of library service.

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