Lancashire plans to reopen libraries, but Shropshire considers more cuts

Lancashire county council is planning to reopen 14 of the 26 libraries it closed in 2016, while Shropshire is set to withdraw funding for eight of its branches

Fourteen libraries closed by Lancashire county council as part of a controversial money-saving plan could reopen, if a draft proposal by the local authority’s new administration gets the go-ahead.

The libraries were among 26 shut last year in a package of cuts worth £65m, imposed by the council’s Labour administration, which was later ousted in local elections. Before the cuts, the county was home to 73 libraries.

The measures would see nine of the 14 libraries funded by the council for an estimated £3.3m over the next two years. The council said that, if approved, the reopenings would begin this autumn and be completed in spring 2018, giving it time to restock and hire new librarians. The remaining five would be run by independent community organisations.

In addition to these plans, the council will also consider deferring the decision to close three other libraries that are still open, as well as nine that have already closed, a spokesman said. Six other libraries that are scheduled for closure will remain open, though services may be reduced.

A report to the council’s cabinet, to be presented on 13 July, says that funding for the reopenings will come from the county fund reserve and will be closely monitored in future budgets.

The new Conservative-led administration was voted in on a platform that included reopening the libraries. The plan marks a reversal of fortune for the beleaguered service, after the previous administration’s cuts led to intervention from then-minister for civil society Rob Wilson, who met with council leaders in January to discuss the cuts. This followed calls for government intervention over library closures, with opponents claiming the closures were in breach of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, which places legal obligations on local authorities for the provision of libraries.

The news of Lancashire’s plans came as Shropshire county council announced that eight of its libraries would have to find alternative funding if they are to remain open. The announcement was part of a raft of measures included in an updated strategy for the service, due to be presented to councillors on 12 July. It follows a £1.3m round of cuts in 2015.

Under the three-tier proposals, the main county libraries would remain fully funded by the local authority, while a group of libraries serving small towns would have five years to find alternative funding. Among the eight threatened with loss of funding are four already run by community groups. The smallest local libraries, some of which are run by volunteers, will have one year to replace council funding.

Shropshire councillor Lezley Picton, cabinet member for culture and leisure, said: “We have no intentions to close any of our libraries. However, we do need to prioritise how and where our limited resources are spent now and in the future.”

Shropshire is typical of many local authorities that have looked to their public library services as a way to compensate for severe cuts elsewhere in government funding. Facing a funding crisis across all sectors, the county council is trying to plug the hole with a raft of measures affecting its leisure services. It also plans to sell more than 4,200 council homes to raise money.


Danuta Kean

The GuardianTramp

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