Library managers struggling to hit £500,000 savings demand

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LIBRARY managers who have been ordered to cut their budget to help meet Government-imposed spending reductions will present their money-saving ideas to leading councillors at a meeting today.

Rotherham Council is the latest South Yorkshire authority to conduct a “review” of its library services, a process which comes shortly after a controversial library closure scheme was unveiled in neighbouring Doncaster.

At present librarians in Rotherham have found savings of just £136,000 and have admitted that it is unlikely that they will meet the demand.

Rotherham Council’s libraries budget is currently £3,313,975, but senior officers have been told that they must find ways of cutting the spend by £500,000 by March 2014 while maintaining a “modern, vibrant” service.

Senior councillors also want to ensure that the council continues to “comply with its duties” under section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, which decrees that councils should deliver a “comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons”.

In the plan to be presented to the authority’s ruling cabinet today, senior librarians do not say that libraries will close completely, but say the council’s new “library strategy” will see changes.

The report, written by Elenore Fisher, the council’s cultural services manager, says: “Initial discussions have identified potential impact on the location of libraries, opening hours, service delivery and the range and number of books purchased.

“Further detailed work is required to ensure that the authority continues to deliver a ‘comprehensive service for all persons’ under the Public Libraries Act, while taking account of available resources.”

Ms Fisher adds that while some savings have already been identified, officers would struggle to meet the £500,000 saving before March 2014, because of the need for major consultation.

She says: “In order to ensure rigorous and robust decision making, proposals for the future of the service needs to take into account its statutory nature and existing and projected need for the service.

“It is unlikely, nearing in mind the requirements for consultation and the need to implement a full service staffing review, that savings for 2012/13 would be released.”

Figures show that savings for 2012/13 have been agreed with a cut in opening hours releasing £40,000, a reduction in the “materials fund” for new books and other resources of £30,000 and a reduction in event releasing a further £16,000.

A second cut in the library service’s material fund in 2013/14 has also been agreed by officers, adding another £50,000 to the savings total so far.

As library managers continue to look for ways to save money, it is likely that they will have one eye on the situation in Doncaster, which has led to angry public meetings and criticism of the town’s elected mayor Peter Davies.

More than half of Doncaster’s libraries will no longer be managed by the council under its cost-cutting plans which were agreed last month.

The authority decided to close two of the town’s 26 libraries from the beginning of November and has handed over 12 more branches to be run by community groups, in a shake-up that will save £1.2m a year.

The Save Doncaster Libraries campaign group said Doncaster Council had “failed the people of Doncaster in their shambolic approach to changes to the library service.”

But Mr Davies defended the council’s actions and has continued to say that the libraries had to be cut to protect other services.

At the time of the decision he said: “I do not pretend that this is an ideal situation. However, we are living in the real world where political decisions have to be taken and we need real solutions when it comes to saving money.”