Council denies sell-off claims in radical libraries shake-up

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LABOUR councillors have hit back at accusations that libraries are to be sold off in a Yorkshire city under radical plans to transform the service into a social enterprise.

Liberal Democrats on York Council have claimed jobs will be put at risk and sites forced to close under the move to overhaul dramatically the running of the city’s 13 libraries.

The Labour-run council is planning to slash £250,000 from its library services in the new financial year amid the Government’s austerity drive. It emerged yesterday the council will have had to make £80m in savings across all its services between 2007 and next year.

Council officials have claimed developing a community benefit society, a form of co-operative, could open up access to new funding streams, grants and trading activities to generate income for the service.

The library service is on track to be the first in the country to secure its future by developing a community benefit society, with the Cabinet Office due to provide £100,000 towards the overall £117,000 cost of establishing the new structure.

But the Liberal Democrat spokesman for cultural services, Coun Nigel Ayre, said: “The current library service is cost-effective, successful, and popular. Given this, it is a disgrace that Labour, without properly consulting the public, have decided to sell off the service and push on with their untested social enterprise model.”

The cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism, Coun Sonja Crisp, maintained that while the libraries will would be operated under a different model, they will still be council-owned.

She added: “The city’s libraries service remains a critically important one for us and we won’t jeopardise its excellent reputation with any future plans for how it is run.”