Plans to cut Lincolnshire’s library service are a step closer after a full scrutiny of renewed proposals on Tuesday, January 27.
The Council’s Executive will be asked to approve plans to reduce the number of libraries in the county to 15, alongside up to 40 community-run hubs on February 3.
The core shape of the service, whilst yet to be decided, will also go out to tender. The Executive will consider a bid from Greenwich Leisure Ltd, a company looking to take over the running of the libraries and hubs.
In the hour before the Community and Public Safety Scrutiny Committee meeting, a group of around 20 people gathered at the county council offices in Lincoln to protest the proposed cuts.
The protestors, including representative from the Save Lincolnshire Libraries group, held up banners and chanted outside the offices. Some were invited to speak at the scrutiny meeting.
Julie Harrison, spokesperson for Save Lincolnshire Libraries, said: “A full comprehensive and efficient library service can be delivered within the budget including the savings. There is no need to do a sale closure.
“I cannot understand why it has been put forward again. Why would councillors want to cut out what is a window of opportunity?
“Libraries run by volunteers are not sustainable. There is not enough financial commitment from the council, there isn’t enough professional commitment and it only lasts for four years. After that they are expecting people to then raise the funding.”
Labour Councillor Phil Dilks, Shadow Executive Member for Libraries at Lincolnshire County Council, added: “Community groups who stepped in the run their libraries are now getting cold feet. It is too risky as a model.
“If people cannot manage their libraries there will be no mobile library to replace it.”
Since the original proposal which sought the commitment of community groups, three have withdrawn their expressions of interest entirely following the judicial review and resubmitted proposal.
The council confirmed that it has remained in contact with 34 groups and secured feedback from them. Some 25 groups have responded positively and six have given conditional responses.
The renewed plans, which are almost identical to those submitted before being quashed in the High Court in July 2014, are the result of further public consultation and 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.
During the meeting on January 27 committee members heard the complicated history of the libraries proposals from the Future Shape of Library Provision report including lessons learnt from the judicial review.
Councillors and representatives of the campaign group Save Lincolnshire Libraries spoke out in rejection of a squeezed service, addressing concerns as to the sustainability of community hubs for the long-term future, accessibility for library users and the efficiency of a changed service.
Tony McGinty, Consultant in Public Health behind the Future Shape of Library Provision report, said: “We did review three more significant proposals, one from Northamptonshire County Council, one from Mrs Pauline Palmer and one from Greenwich Leisure Ltd. We decided only one met the requirements and GLL was accepted.
“Communities that put themselves forward to run the hubs will get support for four years from the council. We will retain a direct relationship with the groups with regards to the maintenance of the building and the rent. It is difficult to look beyound the initial four year period. Our own financial position is uncertain.
“There is a risk that groups will not be able to run the community hubs. If they pull out they may not end up with a mobile library and we would review each on a case by case basis.
“The vision is not just about libraries, it’s a catalyst for the potential for us to transfer our service into the community.”
Cllr Nick Worth, Executive Member for Libraries, said: “There was a lively debate at the scrutiny committee with a range of different opinions shared.
“I believe the model we have for these services going forward is a good one, both keeping libraries open and saving money, and I welcome the views of the committee on the proposals.
“I look forward to the discussion at the executive meeting next week, and I’m sure all the views that have been expressed will be taken into consideration in making a decision.
“And I’m confident that the ultimate outcome will be a comprehensive and efficient service that meets the needs of residents.”