YORKSHIRE is facing the biggest programme of library closures it has ever seen after another cash-squeezed council announced plans for a raft of savage cuts over the coming year.
Local and national campaigners expressed fury after five public libraries in the Bradford area were earmarked for closure by council leaders yesterday, bringing the total under threat across the region to 65.
The announcement means nearly one in five of all Yorkshire’s libraries are now facing the axe, a figure which is likely to soar even higher over the coming year as another five councils conduct reviews of their library services with an eye to further savings.
The vast majority of the libraries earmarked for closure so far are in small towns and villages scattered around the region, where local services are already scarce.
Council papers show that mobile book services, staffing levels, opening hours and spending on new books are also set to be ravaged as authorities slash their budgets.
Campaigners say libraries are an easy target for council chiefs looking for quick savings. Protests have been held in under-threat libraries across the country over recent weeks as local authorities finalise their spending plans for the coming financial year following massive reductions in their grants from central Government.
There was some positive news for library supporters yesterday when Doncaster Council signalled it would follow the lead of North Yorkshire County Council and delay its sweeping programme of closures for 12 months to allow further consultation.
But there has been no suggestion from either authority that extra funds will be diverted to keep the threatened services open beyond next year.
Both councils say they want volunteers and community groups to take over the running of many of their libraries, in line with David Cameron’s much-criticised Big Society model, as they can no longer afford to sustain them.
But campaigner Lauren Smith, who represents both the national group Voices for the Library and the local Save Doncaster Libraries protest group, said most communities simply do not have enough volunteers with sufficient time on their hands to run their own library, and that a proper service required trained professionals.
She said: “The picture across the region and across the country is so depressing, and it just goes to show how little awareness there is of the crucial role libraries play.
“They offer such a vital service to so many people, and especially for our vulnerable groups – the elderly, the unemployed, families with young children and people who cannot afford books and computers – yet they are seen as an easy target by councillors.
“People rely on them for books, for newspapers, for access to the internet and the benefit to the community is huge.
“These councils undertake so-called ‘asset reviews’ and libraries can look like something they can quickly sell off to make a pretty penny. But the money does not go back into these villages, and services are not replaced.”
The Yorkshire Post revealed last July that public libraries were likely to bear the brunt of the huge spending cuts facing council leaders, as the scale became clear of the spending reduction planned by central Government.
The director of policy at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, Guy Daines, said then the region should prepare for “widespread closures”.
Announcements made by five councils over the past few weeks – Leeds, Barnsley, North Yorkshire, Doncaster and now Bradford – have confirmed campaigners’ worst fears. Service reviews are still under way in Kirklees, Calderdale, Sheffield, Wakefield and East Riding, with more closures likely.
Bradford Council leader Ian Greenwood said yesterday that his authority planned to shut libraries at Addingham, Denholme, Heaton, Wilsden and Wrose as part of a £30m savings package.
“It is with a heavy heart,” he said. “But these were the libraries our review suggested are the least used and least sustainable.”