Spending squeeze may see library hours cut

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OPENING hours at libraries in one of the region’s cities may have to be cut as a cash-starved council fights to keep the sites open amid a multi-million pound crisis due to savage funding cuts from Westminster.

The Government’s austerity drive has led to the closure of scores of libraries across the country, but Hull Council is battling to ensure facilities across the city remain open.

The proposals to cut opening times follow a wide-ranging consultation on the future of libraries in the city.

Hull Council leader Steve Brady said: “We have just done the consultation and we need to take note. The majority view coming back is they would rather sooner see a small reduction in hours, rather than actually close them.”

In February, the Labour-run council said a 25 per cent cut in central government funding meant spending on libraries needed to be reduced by £415,000, by next March. The council is now predicting another five years of funding cuts to services of between £50m and £60m.

The consultation asked questions about the range of services on offer at the libraries, users’ satisfaction with the services and the opening hours of each site.

Coun Brady said: “The Chancellor has made it quite clear, as has the Opposition, that they are going to stick to Tory spending targets for the next two years.

“We can’t expect any respite from a £10m a year cut so in the next five years we are looking at a further £50m to £60m savings.”

However, he said, libraries would get a new purpose as they are increasingly needed by people without IT at home to fill in government forms online.

“We have some of the lowest uptakes in the country of people with internet connections,” he added. “My vision for libraries is like the Central Library in the city, which has a large computer facility for people not only to apply for jobs but to fill in forms that the Government requires online, and also through a new form of communication with the council, to get a swift response.”

Coun Brady said they were “working miracles” to keep libraries open, and compared Hull’s situation to cities like Sheffield, which has relinquished control of 15 branches to save £1.6m a year.

Most have been taken over by voluntary groups, but Coun Brady warned that was no easy option. Just one library in Hull is run as a community venture, Anlaby Park Community Library.

He said: “It’s now a very successful community centre, but it is an extremely difficult task to do.

“When the Government says they want local communities to take ownership of facilities they don’t understand the hard work you have to do to get anywhere near the vision.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Claire Thomas, the shadow portfolio holder for libraries, said the council needed to be look at putting extra services into libraries to make them more cost-effective to run.

She said: “The council needs to keep libraries open across the city. Putting even more services in would help make a library more cost-effective for the staffing and building it provides.”

The influential Public Libraries News website estimates 170 static libraries have been put under threat of closure or passed to volunteers since April.