The futures of up to 28 libraries across Northamptonshire have been put at risk as part of cost-cutting proposals announced this week. On October 16th cash-strapped council chiefs revealed a series of early budget proposals they say will save the authority £9.6 million. However, the measures are a prelude to a far greater series of cuts due to be announced in December.
Among them the council has announced plans to “redesign” library services across the county, putting up to 28 at risk including those in Far Cotton, Kingsthorpe, and Abington – all smaller libraries in Northampton. (The word “redesign” used in the sense that Henry VIII redesigned monasteries.)
The authority is to put three separate proposals out to consultation this week – the first of which will be to invite community groups to run 21 smaller libraries around the county, saving the council £290,000 next year.
Options two and three, however, would involve simply shutting the doors of up to 28 book lending premises around the county.
Cabinet member for Public Health and Wellbeing, Councillor Sylvia Hughes (Con, Irthlingborough) said: “Faced with significant funding pressures, we have no option but to review the current model for Northamptonshire libraries.
“We are committed to maintaining a library service that continues to serve the most people who borrow items and those who use the library for other services, such as computer workshops, registration services and access to borough and district council services.”
The opposition Labour group has called today’s announcement a “dark day” for the county council. “These proposals will decimate the library services in our county,” said Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Abington and Phippsville). “In recent years libraries have become more than just borrowing books. Many things have been placed inside them such as universal services for children, training courses, birth and death registration and so on. So libraries have taken on more and more but now they are being threatened with closure. This is a dark day for Northampton and the county.”
Under all of the proposals being put forward, the mobile bus library would be withdrawn from services. Also, all of the proposals will see the county’s eight largest libraries kept. These are the Corby Cube, Kettering, Wellingborough, Abington Street (Northampton) Weston Favell (Northampton), Rushden, Daventry and Towcester.
All libraries across the county have remained shut for a day so that staff could be informed of the proposals.
Councillor Hughes said the preferred option would be to see 21 smaller libraries taken over by community groups – even though cabinet papers show the council would save around £1 million more by closing 28 of the small and medium completely.
In a separate development the Council’s Chief executive, Paul Blantern, announced that he was leaving the authority on 13 October. Coincidentally or otherwise Mr Blantern has been the Chair of the Government Libraries Taskforce which is intended to provide leadership and support to public libraries in England. The Campaign and others have been critical of the task force’s attitude to closures and volunteer-run libraries (see below).