Warwickshire County Council discuss communities taking over their libraries

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COMMUNITIES could be given more time to work up local solutions for their libraries if this gets the go-ahead from Warwickshire County Council.

The findings of the 12-week consultation, on the future of Warwickshire Library and Information Service, has been analysed in detail and a report will now go to both Warwickshire County Council’s Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet.

The Overview and Scrutiny meeting will be held today (Monday) and the outcome of this will be fed into the decision-making Cabinet on Thursday.

Warwickshire County Council must cut spending by more than £67 million over the next three years. As part of the savings plan, the Library and Information Service budget will reduce by £2 million.

The library proposals consulted upon identified 16 Warwickshire libraries, including Dunchurch, no longer sustainable in their current form, alongside other cost-cutting measures including reduced opening hours, reductions in the mobile library fleet and workforce, and reducing the number of public computers across the library network.

The key recommendations in the report is to ask Cabinet to approve a time extension for finalisation of all 16 community-run library bids to Friday 19 August 2011, with a further report being presented to Cabinet in October 2011.

It is also recommended that a reallocation of £100,000 from capital funding, from the One Stop Shop expansion plan, be moved to provide a capital fund to communities wishing to set up community-run libraries.

The report also says that the book/stock fund should not be reduced any further.

In addition, the report asks for authorisation to reduce the opening hours of 14 libraries in consultation with local people but that, whenever possible, the services of volunteers should be used to increase the opening hours.

These are Atherstone, Coleshill, Bedworth, Nuneaton, Rugby, Leamington, Kenilworth, Lillington, Whitnash, Alcester, Shipston, Southam, Stratford and Wellesbourne.

Communities interested in running their own library would have more time to complete their business case, if approval goes ahead, but a consequence of this will mean that the service will not meet its savings target for the current year by £150k.

Cllr Colin Hayfield, Portfolio Holder for Customers, Access and Physical Assets, said: “We have been impressed by the level of response we have had from local people. Nearly 5,000 consultation questionnaires were returned, we had feedback from 25 public meetings and 41 library roadshows which were attended by 2,384 people, along with more than 500 letters and e-mails received and 15 petitions containing more than 10,000 signatures.

“Sixteen communities have come forward expressing an interest in running their own libraries and we are looking to see if those business cases can happen.

“We have said that we would fully consider the feedback we get from the consultation to help us make the right decision. We don’t want to rush that decision and that’s why we are looking to extend the deadline to give local people more time. In addition we are offering £100k of funds to help make these plans a reality.

“Local solutions are in the hands of local communities. If they can put together a viable business case it could save their library.

“At the end of the day these are extremely difficult times, no councillor, no matter what their political persuasion, wants to make cuts to valued services. But we have to change the way we deliver our services. That is unavoidable to achieve the necessary savings,” said Cllr Hayfield.

The County Council has been speaking to staff as this could affect around 50 full-time equivalent staff. However the council wants to avoid compulsory redundancies wherever possible and is therefore asking staff for their preferences, such as if they would be willing to reduce their hours and if they would consider voluntary redundancy if it were offered.