Recommendations for the future of Somerset’s Libraries Service have finally been unveiled today with the ultimate decision expected to be made next month (5 November) but Labour leaders have warned of future cuts and point the finger squarely at the Tories for failing to balance budgets.
A detailed report was published online, which sets out how Somerset’s Libraries Service would continue to be delivered across the County. It recommends that 19 existing library buildings be retained by Somerset County Council. For the remaining 15 library buildings, Somerset County Council would seek to develop ‘Community Library Partnerships’ (CLPs) where communities would support library buildings in partnership with the County Council
Where this proves not to be possible, library buildings would close and alternative means of delivering library services in communities such as outreach services and/or mobile library stops would be implemented.
The 19 libraries where services are recommended to remain the same are: Bridgwater town centre, Burnham-on-Sea, Chard, Cheddar, Crewkerne, Dulverton, Frome, Glastonbury, Ilminster, Langport, Martock, Minehead, Shepton Mallet (likely to move to a new location, which would be determined next year), Taunton town centre, Wellington, Wells, Williton, Wincanton and Yeovil town centre.
Community Library Partnerships expressions of interest will now be invited from the following 15 communities: Bishops Lydeard, Bruton, Castle Cary, Highbridge, Milborne Port, Nether Stowey, North Petherton, Porlock (with the aim to continue their existing Community Library Partnership in its present format), Priorswood (Taunton), Somerton, Street, South Petherton, Sunningdale (Yeovil), Watchet and Wiveliscombe.
Tories admit people wanted no change…but that’s ‘not an option’
Tory Councillor for Bridgwater East, David Hall, who is Cabinet Member with responsibility for libraries at Somerset County Council, said: “Many people told us they would prefer no changes to our libraries service, however staying the same is not an option if we are to put the libraries service on a sustainable footing for the future. We have listened, and the recommendations have taken account of the feedback. We are making funds available to support Community Library Partnerships and we are proposing to restructure libraries management in a bid to keep costs down. We’re now recommending changes to fewer libraries than set out in the original consultation proposals. We are also following up suggestions made by communities.
“This is a once in a generation review. The network of library buildings in Somerset has remained unchanged for around 40 years. We have to modernise library services and re-design them to meet local needs more effectively. We need to strike the right balance of delivering a thriving, dynamic and comprehensive library service, which meets our statutory obligations, whilst living within our financial means.”
The 15 communities which would be affected by the recommendations are now invited to submit a Community Library Partnership (CLP) Expression of Interest by midday on 15 November. If unable to agree CLPs, alternative library services as set out in the report would be implemented (such as outreach services and mobile van library stops) and library buildings could start to close from early 2019.
Cllr Hall continued: “We are heartened by the number of communities interested in exploring CLPs. This model has worked well in Porlock for the last four years and in many other libraries across the country. We are committed to supporting CLPs through training, ongoing technical support, the provision of book stock (including a regular supply of new books) and ICT equipment such as computers, printers and scanners. Some would receive ongoing financial support. If we are unable to develop CLPs, we will meet our legal duty to provide library services in other ways.”
The recommendation report will go to Scrutiny Committee for Policy and Place on 24 October before Cabinet will make a final decision on 5 November. If approved, implementation would start from January 2019.
Labour warns of future cuts
Sedgemoor Labour group leader, Cllr Mick Lerry , said “Many residents will welcome the fact that Bridgwater Library will part of the 19 Libraries that will remain the same, there is still the threat of future cuts in services in the following financial years. Somerset County Council are determined to renege on their community responsibility and to shunt the revenue cost on to communities, such as North Petherton, who already pay a grant to Somerset County Council to retain their Library. This only shows that the ruling group are mis-managing SCC and they are closing down services to the communities they serve. It is not just austerity that has caused the decline in funding for SCC, many communities will suffer for the loss of public services, due to the fact that since the Tories have gained control of County Hall and implemented a zero council tax year on year. This has produced a loss of 100 million revenue income, much needed money that could have retained public services for the people of Somerset. Residents and voters need to remember how the Tories have created a shambles at County Hall, when they vote in the District elections next year”.