Northants County Council U-turn over library opening hours

A protest late last year over proposed library service cuts
A protest late last year over proposed library service cuts

Every library in the county will open three days a week after Northamptonshire County Council bosses reversed their shock decision to offer just one day of services at 21 libraries.

The authority had faced heavy public criticism after it revealed on Tuesday that 21 of its county libraries would only be able to open on one day per week with immediate effect.

Members have had to cut all but essential spending after a S114 notice was issued imposing strict spending controls.

Separately from that, on Wednesday the council also decided to cut its libraries budget for 2018/19 which meant that eight large libraries would be retained and a different 21 libraries would close.

It also listed eight “medium” libraries which would be retained.

Corby and East Northants MP Tom Pursglove had announced that he was considering asking Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock MP to investigate the council’s decisions on library closures because he believed they may not be fulfilling their obligations under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

But now the authority has managed to find the resources to ensure that in the short term every county library should be open on at least three days every week.

The wider library closures outlined in the 2018/19 budget will come into effect gradually over the forthcoming financial year.

A spokeswoman said: “We have reviewed staffing arrangements at libraries as part of the ongoing spending control panel process which we introduced as part of the Section 114 notice.

“This notice restricts all expenditure above and beyond statutory services and safeguarding vulnerable people without explicit approval through the agreed process.

“This means very difficult decisions are having to be made on an ongoing basis as we seek to meet the in-year pressures on our budget.

“It has now been decided that we will look to staff libraries above the levels introduced earlier this week.

“We will aim to ensure every library in the county can open at least three days a week.

“Clearly this will be dependent on availability of temporary staff.

“We will make sure individual libraries communicate their revised opening hours with customers and they will be published on our website as soon as possible.

“Due to the ongoing financial pressures this county is facing, this matter will be subject to ongoing review.

“It is important to note this is an entirely separate matter to the decision about the future of the library service taken as part of the approval of the final budget for 2018/19 at this week’s full council meeting.

“These longer term changes will come into effect in the next financial year.”