The new plan for Northamptonshire libraries explained

Burton Latimer library has come off the safe list and may become community managed.
Burton Latimer library has come off the safe list and may become community managed.

An eight week consultation began this week into a new review of the Northamptonshire libraries provision.

This libraries plan mark two replaces an earlier scheme by Northamptonshire County Council which put 21 libraries under threat of closure and which was defeated in the high court this summer.

Earls Barton library community group is refusing to buy its library as a point of principle.

Earls Barton library community group is refusing to buy its library as a point of principle.

So what is the county council’s new plan for the 16 libraries in the North of the county?

On December 3 Northamptonshire County Council unveiled the details of its new libraries plan as part of its budget announcement for next year.

This new proposal will see the council keep 14 libraries under its control, hand over five to community groups with a statutory protection and put the remaining 17 in the hands of community groups with no statutory safety net.

The proposal, which is projected to save the authority £543,000 per year, has been heralded as a new start by the council’s Conservative politicians and the authority’s new chief executive Theresa Grant.

Irchester library was built in 1909 with a 1000 gift from Andrew Carnegie.

Irchester library was built in 1909 with a 1000 gift from Andrew Carnegie.

Cllr Cecile Irving-Swift, county council cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “At the heart of this proposal is the fact that we’ve worked with some wonderful community groups who clearly have a passion for books and libraries.

“As such we’ve been able to sit down and draw up unique plans with the groups so that a model is proposed that is workable in each location.

“The plans deliver a budget saving while at the same time ensuring the long-term future of the service – a proposal which I am delighted to endorse.”

However the new offer has been met with a mixed reaction and it clear that there are some winners and some losers in this reshuffle.

One of the winners is Desborough library which has been given statutory protection. An infant user of the library had been behind one of the two claimants against the council in this summer’s high court battle and the library has strong support in the local community. A new charity called Desborough Library and Community Hub has been set up to take over the running of the library and the group has already secured financial backing towards buying the building from the county council.

Spokeswoman Paula Holmes said: “We have worked very hard to show the county council what we want to do with the library. We have been proactive and have requested meetings and sought funding.

“Desborough is a growing town and the number of under-fives who use the library is phenomenal.

“But we have to be cautious as this is just an offer. It is not over.”

Perhaps the biggest loser is Burton Latimer library which in the original plan had been on the list to remain open but has now been moved to the community managed library category without any statutory protection.

The town council and the friends of library group are keen to keep the popular library in High Street running but want to know what finances are involved before pledging to take over.

Mayor Fergus Macdonald said: “We are determined to do everything in our power to make sure the library does not close. But until we have all the facts it is very difficult to make a firm decision. We need to make sure it is financially stable.

“What I can say quite positively is that once we have all the facts we will be having a public meeting to put it to the people of Burton Latimer.

“I believe it would be wrong for the final decision to be made by just the ten town councillors and people from the friends of group.”

The county council owns 12 of the county’s 36 library buildings and had stood to make £3.25m if it had sold off all of them. In some cases such as Raunds the town council has stepped forward with an offer to buy the building but some library groups have not been as fortunate and are in talks with the county authority about leasing the buildings.

Rothwell library in Market Hill has been refused help to buy the building by both Kettering Council and Rothwell Town Council although it does have a plan of how it can continue to run the library and is in discussion with the county council and others.

Earls Barton library has a large group of volunteers and is already running the library on a voluntary basis but its friends of group does not think it should have to buy the building.

Chairman of the friends of group Ian Chacksfield said: “We are definitely not going to buy it on a matter of principle. We want Northamptonshire county council to donate the building to the community.”

A number of groups are still in discussions with the county council. Irchester parish council has employed a consultant to undertake a feasibility plan and come up with a business plan but it has not reached an agreement with the council about the building. The library was built in 1909 on land donated to the parish by a local aristocrat Lady noWantage with a £1,000 gift by famous philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The county council took over the running of the library in 1964 and in recent years registered the building in its ownership. It had asked the parish council to buy it back earlier this year for a sum of £195,000. However, the biggest issue for the parish council is the lack of volunteers stepping forward to help out.

Parish council clerk NIkki Daft said this week: “We have not had a community group come forward and so this is being done through the parish council. It would be lovely if people were to step forward.

“We need to be looking at budgets as well. If we look at running the library and renting the building, there is the possibility we have to employ staff. That is an awful lot of money that the parish council doesn’t have. So we have got to work out where the income would come from.”

And it seems certain that some libraries will have to leave their current home. Danesholme library in Corby is set to move into the nearby community centre and it is likely that the Higham Ferrers library will move into a temporary building.

The community-managed libraries have a choice of two options about how they will run the service. The more comprehensive package, which the county council says most libraries are opting for, allows the libraries to remain signed up to the computer system and also have support to a community co-ordinator.

As part of its new plan the county council has highlighted 106 money that may be available in each area. These are funds donated by a developer towards community assets. The money will not be able to be used for running costs but could go towards building improvements.

The possible funds available in East Northants are £208,000, a total of £70,800 is available in Kettering and £36,600 is available in the Wellingborough.

The next steps are that the community can have their say on what they think of the new plan before it is then decided on by councillors in February.

The 14 libraries that will remain run by NCC as part of its statutory provision are: Corby, Kettering, Rushden, Wellingborough, Daventry, Towcester, Weston Favell, Northamptonshire Central, Hunsbury, Irthlingborough, Oundle, Duston, Brixworth and Brackley.

The five libraries that will be community managed with statutory provision protection are:

Desborough: A charitable trust has been set up and the plan is to buy the building from the county council. The aim is to turn the library into a community hub.

Thrapston: The town council had considered buying the building but will now wait until the consultation to consider its next steps.

Earls Barton: The friends of group is currently running the library through its strong network of volunteers. It hopes the county will hand over the building for it to run as it’s stance is that it won’t pay for the building on a point of principle.

Deanshanger and Middleton Cheney.

The 17 proposed community managed libraries that will not have the statutory provision safety net are:

Rothwell: Discussions are continuing with NCC about leasing the building after both Kettering Borough Council and Rothwell Town Council have said they will not buy the building.

Raunds: The town council has said it will buy the building and the Raunds Community Library Trust want to run the library and make improvements to services.

Higham Ferrers: The town council has put in an application to move the library out of its current building and into a portacabin.

Danesholme: The library looks likely to move out of its current location and across the road to the Danesholme Community Centre.

Burton Latimer: The library is the only one in the county to have moved out of its earlier safe category and into the community managed category. The town council keen to keep the library open and says it will consult with residents before any decisions are made.

Finedon: The library is based at Finedon town hall and is leased by the county council from Wellingborough council with the lease due to end in June. Discussions are continuing and the library is currently being supported by volunteers.

Irchester: The parish council has employed a consultant to draw up a business plan but is in need of volunteers and community support to run it.

Long Buckby, Far Cotton, Woodford Halse, Wollaston, Moulton, Kingsthorpe, Roade, Wootton, St James and Abington are also in this category.