Northamptonshire library service reduced by a fifth this financial year

The county council is currently consulting in plans to hand 22 of its 36 libraries over to community groups.
The county council is currently consulting in plans to hand 22 of its 36 libraries over to community groups.

Northamptonshire’s library service has been reduced this financial year with both budgets and staff cut by 20 per cent.

The cash-strapped county council is currently consulting on plans to hand over 22 of its 36 libraries to community groups in a bid to save money.

But new figures reveal that the authority has already been making big cutbacks.

According to its latest financial reports it has made £884,000 of savings this financial year.

Savings have been made by making the majority of library managers redundant, reducing opening hours and cutting back on refilling shelves.

In total 46 staff have left, 39 with redundancy packages totalling £273,000. Twenty-four library managers have gone, leaving just 10 remaining. A total of 146 staff now remain as part of the service and the authority has created 12 new customer assistant posts.

The libraries budget for 2017/18 was £3,926,448 and the authority predicts that the final libraries budget in 2018/19, which has three months left to run, will be £3,169,000.

Northamptonshire County Council is now asking people what they think of the current cost reduction plan which would see only 14 libraries across Northamptonshire remain within statutory and run by the council. Five of the 22 which will be given to community groups will also have statutory protection. The previous plan to close 21 libraries was defeated by campaigners in a high court battle last July.

A council spokesman said financial pressures had meant the service had been reviewed to make it run more efficiently.

“Despite our financial pressures we have so far managed to keep all of our libraries open.

“Under the current proposals which are out to consultation, the vast majority of libraries would be kept open with council backing.

“The proposals for 2019/2020 would also see a net increase in the budget for the service, compared to the current financial year.”

Alison Richards from the 21 group Libraries Network has questioned the new vision being put forward for the libraries service, which the council says will see a far better outcome with most libraries remaining open.

She said: “I would like to challenge that. In terms of a far better outcome, it is only better than the previous independent library offer.

“If the community libraries struggle they could possibly close and no amount of saying how important libraries are is going to mitigate against that.”

Figures provided by the authority show that it has saved £614,000 this financial year by not restocking the shelves and saved £554,000 in salary costs. A total of £174,000 of property savings have been made and £96,000 has been saved on IT costs.

This is offset against other outlays including lost income of £142,000 and the redundancy costs. A number of libraries are now on a much reduced service and are manned by volunteers.

The £200,000 bill for legal work to fight the judicial review has also come out of the libraries budget.

The proposed budget for 2019/20 is £3,571,000.

The authority started the consultation for changes to eight of its libraries yesterday (Jan 22).

Finedon, Higham Ferrers, and Irchester are among the eight.

Cllr Cecile Irving-Swift, deputy leader of the county council with the responsibility for the library service, said: “At the heart of this proposal is the fact that we’ve worked with some wonderful community groups who, like us at the county council, clearly have a passion for books.

“At this stage these are simply proposals and what we need now is for people to have their say on what they think of these plans.”

The consultation will run until March 22 and there will be public engagement events at all of the eight except for Duston, where there is no change proposed.

The consultation for the first 28 libraries closes on February 8.

Once the consultations have been completed the county council will consider all of the responses as one and a decision will be made by the cabinet in May.

The consultation is available at : www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/library-consultation