Lincolnshire County Council’s Executive Committee has approved plans to cut the number of libraries in the county to 15 from 45, and to put the service out to tender.
The plans, which are similar to those agreed to in December 2013 before they were quashed by a judicial review, will see 30 libraries transformed into ‘community hubs’ – joining 10 others.
The revised proposal featured an option to put the restructured service out to tender, with a bid from Greenwich Leisure Ltd under consideration.
Overall the council hopes to save around £1.7 million a year in the move, putting around 100 jobs at risk and handing facilities over to volunteers. The service will retain around 135 posts in the service
The community hubs would receive ongoing professional support, and around £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.
Any organisation chosen to manage the library services on behalf of the council will begin from April 2016.
Concerns from campaigners remain however as to the sustainability of community bids after a number of groups pulled their proposals.
At the meeting on Tuesday, February 3, councillors discussed the report which had already been subject to a full three and a half hour scrutiny on January 27.
Tony McGinty, Consultant in Public Health behind the Future Shape of Library Provision report, revised the “long and complicated” history of the decision, recommending that the “safest” option would be to put the service to competitive tender and re-engage with Greenwich Leisure Ltd.
Councillor Nick Worth, Executive Member for Libraries said at the meeting: “The council need to make £90 million of savings and we don’t know where we will be financially. We don’t even know if we’ll have a county council in four years time, we could have a unitary authority.”
He added: “The way in which libraries are used is changing, not just in Lincolnshire, but across the country, and it’s important we adapt with the times.
“We are excited by the potential for community development of the new-look community hubs, and I look forward to working with those that have come forward.
“Because of the challenge by GLL, we will also have to look at potentially outsourcing the service that would otherwise be delivered by the council.
“However, I’m confident that, whatever the ultimate outcome, not only will we continue to provide a comprehensive library service across the county, but it will be one that gives much better value for money.”
Because of the work involved in a competitive procurement, it is likely to take until the end of 2015 before a final decision is reached on who will run the service.
Campaigners from Save Lincolnshire Libraries created a ‘Pop-Up Library’ handing our books at the entrance to County Council Headquarters before the meeting on February 3.
Books to represent each currently council-run library were placed around the building with a summary of what they predict will happen to each of them under the council’s proposals.
Save Lincolnshire Libraries Campaigner, Julie Harrison said: “They could have considered the opposition to their plans from thousands of people across the county and what else they could do in the light of that.
“They could have considered proposals which had come forward, such as the bid from Greenwich Leisure Ltd to run the existing library network within the budget that had been set.
“They could have considered that the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on the changes was just not worth it for the savings they wanted to make.
“Even at this late stage, we urge them to think of the irreparable damage the loss of most of our library service will do.”
Costs so far
Labour’s Shadow Executive Member for Libraries Phil Dilks released figures on Monday, February 2 highlighting the total cost of the Lincolnshire libraries proposals so far as £728,000.
He said: “Only last week, I was told officially that the total costs so far were ‘in the order of £250,000’.
“But I have insisted on seeing the full breakdown of figures. And the truth is three times worse than they admitted, they’ll have spent close on a £1 million of our money.”
The spend break down also includes £387,473 for redundancy and pensions payments to library staff.
Cllr Nick Worth said: “The costs of the making these changes will be heavily outweighed by the savings they bring.
“The transitional arrangements for 2014/15 are already bringing savings of over £600,000, and these would increase to around £2m a year under the new-look model. This will be invaluable in balancing the books in light of our substantially reduced budget.”