Reprieve for threatened library services after public backlash

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LIBRARIES under threat of closure in North Yorkshire’s remotest communities are due to be given a 12-month reprieve after a storm of protest over the planned multi-million pound cutbacks.

Controversial proposals have been drawn up by North Yorkshire County Council which could see as many as 23 of the authority’s 42 libraries closed to counter a huge fall in Government funding.

Senior councillors have stressed that communities need to step in to run their local libraries or face losing the services.

However, the Yorkshire Post understands that ongoing discussions at County Hall have resulted in revised plans which could see the libraries given a stay of execution for at least a year.

It is understood that both council officials and members are concerned about the short timescales which were initially put in place to try and recruit volunteer groups to take over libraries.

The proposals to push any closures back to the 2012/13 financial year are aiming to ensure that local communities have more time to take over the running of libraries.

North Yorkshire County Council’s leader John Weighell declined yesterday to comment on the revised plans as he stressed a public consultation is continuing until the end of this month.

But he added: “It would be wrong to pre-empt any decisions that may be borne out of the consultation, but we are listening to people’s views and taking them into account accordingly.

“There has been strong support for trying to keep libraries open, but we cannot continue to sustain the service in its current form.

“We need to look towards increasingly ingenious ways of running the library service in North Yorkshire.”

The county council has made a great play in recent years of promoting its libraries as “community hubs” to provide internet access, services and advice in addition to simply loaning books, and the authority has bucked a national trend and seen the number of users actually increase. Half of North Yorkshire’s 600,000-strong population are now registered with the libraries.

But the council announced plans in November to make cuts totalling £20.5m from its budgets for services including adult social care and libraries.

The authority is having to enforce savings of more than £69m across all of its departments, and £2.3m will need to be cut from the existing annual library budget of £7.5m over the next two years.

Some of the most vocal opposition to the planned closures has been in the Hunmanby area, near Filey. Coun Nick Harvey, who represents the local Hertford ward on Scarborough Borough Council, claimed residents would not be able to take on the responsibilities for running the village library.

He maintained that local volunteers were already helping run luncheon clubs, a community cafe, village halls and sports clubs.

Coun Harvey added: “To look towards volunteers running Hunmanby library is simply a non-starter. People already do so much in their local communities, they would not be able to take on the extra responsibilities.

“Libraries are no longer places where the staff simply stamp books, there are huge complexities involved as more and more services are now being offered. To train up volunteers could prove just as costly as paying actual staff.”

The county council has announced that it is focusing its resources on just 18 libraries including Harrogate, Skipton, Selby, Whitby, Scarborough and Richmond, placing another 23 smaller sites in jeopardy.

A fleet of 10 mobile libraries is also due to be ditched, with a second “super-mobile” vehicle introduced to replace the service in certain areas of the county.

A deal which has seen residents take on the running of the library in Hawes is being seen as a model for the future to bring volunteers on board to help.

paul.jeeves@ypn.co.uk