Libraries body CILIP has called for an urgent national enquiry into Northamptonshire County Council's "unprecendented" plans to cut 21 libraries.
The proposals, which were voted through on Wednesday (28th February), will see the county’s eight large and seven medium libraries retained, and the 21 smaller libraries closed as council-run libraries.
The decision has been slammed by CILIP, which said the move is "simply staggering" and "very disappointing". The libraries body is now calling on the council to suspend the implementation of this decision as a “matter of urgency”, and will raise the matter with the Secretary of State for Culture.
A spokesperson for the council has described the move as "hugely regrettable".
CILIP chief executive Nick Poole said: “This World Book Day it is simply staggering that the residents of Northamptonshire are facing unprecedented cuts to their libraries and a County Council with a very uncertain future. Cutting libraries is a false economy – it simply transfers costs on to other frontline services such as adult social care, formal education and healthcare provision while reducing the value and attractiveness of local property and businesses."
Poole added that while CILIP understands the financial pressures on local authorities as a result of the reduction in central government grants, there are councils across the UK which are finding ways to maintain or invest in their libraries despite this.
"Once you lose a library, it is extremely hard to get it back and the economic impact on communities reverberates through generations. We are therefore very disappointed that the council has approved the closure of 21 libraries before the outcome of the Communities Secretary’s review of financial management and governance is known", Poole said.
He concluded: "It is clear that the very significant cuts will result in a library service that can in no way be seen to be ‘comprehensive and efficient’, as required by the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. CILIP will be writing to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Matt Hancock, to call on them to mount an inquiry into this failure of provision. We urge Northamptonshire County Council to suspend the implementation of this decision pending any such enquiry.”
County council cabinet member for public health and wellbeing Cllr Sylvia Hughes said: “It is hugely regrettable that we have to consider this revised proposal for the future of the library service in Northamptonshire. We heard loud and clear what residents across the county told us during the 12-week consultation, but given the advisory notice issued by our auditors KPMG last week, we have little choice but to reconsider our preferred option.
“This revised recommendation gives community groups the option to take on the contract for their local library, but given the unprecedented financial challenge we are facing due to reducing funding from central government and unparalleled demand for local services, this will now be outside of the statutory library service.”
Campaigners have previously argued closing the services could "devastate" communities. Alan Moore, Northampton resident and "Watchmen" creator, said the move would be “completely unacceptable and completely monstrous”, and local authors including Louise Jensen, Sue Moorcroft and Sue Bentley recently signed a letter urging the council to reconsider.
It has recently been revealed that opening hours at libraries across Nothamptonshire have been slashed as part of the drastic Section 114 emergency spending controls put in place at County Hall earlier this month. Many libraries will now open for only one day a week.