Libraries in Yorkshire and the Humber are chronically under-funded with some councils spending more than 40 per cent less than the national average on services, it can be revealed today.
Now campaigners are fighting back as councils try to slash costs further by off-loading services to volunteers, with the Mayor of Doncaster this morning facing legal action over his decision to overrule councillors who voted to save the town’s libraries.
All but three of the region’s local authorities spent less than the national average of £17,106 per 1,000 people in 2010/11, figures gathered by the Yorkshire Post through a Freedom of Information request reveal. The average amount spent in the region was just £15,266.13.
East Riding’s libraries were the most under-funded at only £10,082 and Hull’s were close behind at £10,364.54.
Only Kirklees, North East Lincolnshire and Doncaster services received more funding than the national average – but even these may now face heavy losses.
In Doncaster, two libraries have closed and another 12 are set to become community-run after elected Mayor Peter Davies overruled a majority vote for a budget amendment to save them.
An application by Save Doncaster Libraries for a judicial review challenging his power to do so will be heard at Leeds Combined Court Centre today.
The campaign group fears community-run services are not sustainable and that handing libraries over to volunteers will lead to more closures in the long-term.
Spokeswoman Lauren Smith said: “This is a way of trying to stop the damage before it happens. Once they are closed it is very hard to claim them back.”
The court case – the first of its kind in Yorkshire follows a successful legal challenge against library closures in Gloucestershire and Somerset, although another in the London borough of Brent previously failed.
Doncaster Council finance director Simon Wiles, said: “We are confident the Mayor has acted properly and in accordance with the clear legal advice he has received, and that the decisions taken will be successfully defended.”
Volunteers have already replaced professional librarians at some libraries in Leeds and Bradford and 12 libraries were revealed to be under threat in Wakefield last week unless communities step in to take them over. Kirklees is also exploring the option at seven of its smallest sites.
Campaigners argue the move will result in “patchy” provision and claim investing more in services could lead to long-term savings by helping to address illiteracy and unemployment.
Questions have also been raised about issues of training, payments to authors and data protection at community-run libraries.
Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals president Phil Bradley said proper staffing was essential to supporting the growth of knowledge.
“Where changes are implemented on a disproportionate scale and without a plan for continued support, those communities will suffer. It’s not about book stamping, it’s about literacy, learning and prosperous communities.”
Darren Stevens, head of culture and information at the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, defended the authority’s spending being the region’s lowest and said it was proud to deliver a “value-for-money” service through technology such as self-service machines and multi-purpose facilities such as Pocklington’s Pocela Centre.
“We are committed to continuing to provide superb libraries whilst spending every pound in the most efficient way possible,” he said.