Call to action issued over future of city’s libraries as they face £1.6m cuts

ENTREPRENEURS, community leaders and businesses have all been urged to answer a “call to action” issued by council leaders who warn Government cutbacks could lead to the closure of 14 libraries.

Sheffield Council said that until now it had managed cuts in library funding through reductions in opening hours and staff reductions through voluntary redundancy schemes and non-replacement of librarians.

But Coun Mazher Iqbal, the council’s libraries spokesman, said the saving now required is £1.6m from a budget which currently stands at £6.4m a year meaning “major changes” were now unavoidable.

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Blaming the coalition Government for the situation, Coun Iqbal said: “We want to hear as many ideas and proposals to help us save as many libraries as possible, so the service has a viable future.

“I want to be clear that we want to keep libraries open, but the scale of the budget difficulties we are facing mean things have to change. We need help.”

The council said a prospectus was currently being prepared which will would be issued to groups, individuals, large businesses and small and medium enterprises which “lodge an interest” in running a library.

The period for expressing interest in the project will end in March, when the Labour-run council’s ruling cabinet will consider the responses.

It is understood that if no suggestions are made the council will have no choice but to close half of the city’s 28 libraries, but no decisions have yet been made on which communities will suffer.

Last autumn, Sheffield Council began a “consultation process” on the future of its libraries, but at that stage, Coun Iqbal denied that there was an agenda to close any of the city’s community libraries.

Yesterday he said: “We are doing everything we can to keep libraries open, this is why we will be asking our local communities, charities, organisations and the business community to propose if they could help us run the library service and still provide a service to local people when we simply do not have the money to continue.

“It is particularly unfair that whilst we and many other councils in the north are facing cuts of such a scale that we are having to look at the future of our library service some of the wealthiest areas in the country are receiving almost no cuts at all. This is deeply unfair and says everything about the values of this Government.”