Liverpool libraries saved after budget boost – for now

Mayor says plans to close four of the city’s 13 libraries will be suspended after chancellor’s promise of £27m for social care

Public libraries in Liverpool have been saved from closure after the government promised £27m for adult social care in the city – however, the city’s mayor has warned that the decision is a stay of execution, rather than a permanent reprieve for the beleaguered library service.

The £27m injection is Liverpool’s share of an extra £2bn promised last week by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to shore up local councils’ social care provision across the country. Four of the city’s 13 libraries were due to close, with others to be transferred to community groups, under plans aimed at saving £1.6m. Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said the cuts were needed to plug a £90m hole in the local authority’s budgets over the next three years.

Announcing the reprieve, Anderson said the money meant council reserves could now be redirected to protect all Liverpool’s libraries for the next three years. Describing the money as “a small bit of breathing space” and libraries as “a fundamental building block of lifelong education”, Anderson added: “The fact that we had to look at cutting its services was genuinely heartbreaking and shows the scale of the problem which councils like Liverpool are having to address.”

As a result of the cash injection, the mayor said he had allocated £13m to use in the social care budget. Government cuts in Liverpool have been particularly tough, with the outgoing director of adult social services Samih Kalakeche recently telling the Liverpool Echo that the severity of cuts meant that the city could be entirely without social services within three years.

Liverpool libraries came into the firing line when the council was forced to find money to pay for frontline services following cuts in central government provision. Since 2010, the city has witnessed cuts of £330m, the mayor said, and as a result, by 2020, the council’s budgets would be 68% lower than they were a decade before.

But Anderson warned that the extra government funding for adult social care was a one-off payment and questions remain about what will happen beyond 2020. “I’ll be straining every sinew to maintain the pressure on government to make them understand that this sticking plaster approach is no way to treat our elderly and those who work to care for them,” he added.

Libraries have been in the frontline of a funding crisis caused by ballooning adult social care costs and swingeing cuts to funding imposed by Westminster. In Liverpool, three libraries closed in 2012, with a further four transferred to community organisations, including one which has turned into a “centre for learning, recovery, health and wellbeing” run by Mersey Care, the local NHS foundation trust.


Danuta Kean

The GuardianTramp

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