Lincolnshire County Council’s Executive will again be asked to approve plans to reduce the number of libraries it provides to 15, alongside up to 40 community-run hubs.
In December 2013, the council agreed to proposals that would see 30 libraries changed into community hubs in order to save £1.7 million.
The changes were proposed in light of the way libraries are used and the authority’s substantially reduced budget. The proposal also put over 100 jobs at risk.
This move however was challenged by local campaign groups and subsequently quashed in the High Court.
In a statement regarding the ruling at the time, judge Mr Justice Collins said “the means by which the county council decided and reached their decision was flawed”.
The ruling, announced on July 17, meant the County Council would have to review its plans again and reconsider a bid for the running of the county’s service by not-for-profit organisation Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL).
The bid was later accepted for consideration and the council began a procurement exercise for the provision of the service.
Now, officers are recommending that councillors again endorse the plans that were previously agreed.
Under the proposals, the council would continue to provide 15 major libraries, along with online services, mobile libraries and specialist support for those unable to reach their nearest library because of, for instance, disability, age or ill health.
The proposal also includes up to 40 community hubs, including library services, developed in partnership with local community groups.
The groups would receive ongoing professional support, and given over £5,000 per year towards their running costs and access to a one-off grant of up to £15,000 for changes to buildings or equipment.
In addition, officers are now recommending the council undertakes a competitive procurement to seek an external organisation to potentially deliver these services on its behalf, including the support for the community hubs, following on from GLL’s interest.
Any organisation chosen to manage the library services on behalf of the council will begin from April 2016. If an organisation is not found the council will continue to deliver it with its own staff.
Councillor Nick Worth, Executive Member for Libraries, said: “Officers have put in a lot of work to address the issues raised during the court case.
“Having done so, they still believe the model previously agreed by the executive is the right way forward.
“Volunteers would be at the heart of that new-look service, and we have been keeping in close contact with those that have come forward as things developed.
“Because of the challenge from GLL, the executive will also be asked to look at potentially outsourcing our side of things.
“In light of the work that involves, it’s likely to take until the end of 2015 before a final decision is reached on who will run the service.
“I look forward to the views of the scrutiny committee and the debate at the executive meeting. However, I’m confident that the ultimate outcome will be a comprehensive and efficient service that meets the needs of residents.”
The recommendation will be discussed at a meeting of the Community and Public Safety Committee on January 27. A final decision will then be taken at a meeting of the council’s executive on February 3.
The news comes days after campaigners Save Lincolnshire Libraries renewed their vow to fight to keep all libraries open with paid staff.
Julie Harrison, spokesperson for Save Lincolnshire Libraries, said: “It would be unacceptable if the County Council, having accepted GLL’s expression of interest, was to now come forward with plans to get organisations to bid for a significantly worse service than GLL were prepared to provide.
“Judge Collins made it very clear in the High Court that the County Council’s failure to engage with GLL in the first place meant that people in Lincolnshire would have got stuck with the reduced – some might say decimated – library service on offer, following the decision of December 2013.
“What we need today from the County Council is a declaration that what they want to see is an excellent modern library service across the whole county, not one dependent on the post code lottery of whether volunteers can be found. People in Lincolnshire deserve nothing less.”
John Hough, Labour Councillor and Opposition Leader on Lincolnshire County Council said: “With breath-taking arrogance, the out of touch Tories have stuck up two fingers to 24,000 people of Lincolnshire who asked them to think again.
“They have refused to listen to anyone – including those who have shown how all our libraries can continue to be professionally-run, with no cuts to opening hours and within their required budget.”
Phil Dilks, Labour Shadow Executive Member for Libraries said: “Instead, they are determined to blackmail communities desperate to keep their library by saying that unless they volunteer to take it on, it will close.”
The proposed model
The council says its libraries model will need to be relied upon for at least six years and be strong enough to deal with reductions in its overall budget.
The proposed model will offer:
- 10 libraries in Lincoln, Grantham, Boston, Spalding, Gainsborough, Stamford, Skegness, Louth, Sleaford and Mablethorpe. Each will be open for at least 45 hours per week, over six days, closing at 6pm on at least one day. All these libraries will offer free access to computers and the internet, along with other services like printing.
- 5 libraries in Bourne, Long Sutton, Woodhall Spa, Market Rasen and Horncastle. Each will be open at least 18 hours per week, over a minimum of 5 days (including a Saturday), and closing at 6pm on at least one day. All these libraries will offer free access to computers and the internet, along with other services like printing.
- 40 community hubs, including library services, developed in partnership with local volunteers. Some 30 of these will remain council-run libraries until the hub is up and running (but no later than the 30 September 2015).
- Mobile library services for any communities that do not benefit from these services and where there is a proven demand.
- A website and ‘virtual catalogue’ (also available as a smartphone app), giving access to services 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.
- A telephone help-service, offering access to people who are not online or uncomfortable with apps.
- A range of specialist support, such as a monthly home library service, for people who cannot reach their library.
A full extensive report on the proposals is available online from Wednesday, January 14.