Half of Sheffield's libraries under threat

Half of Sheffield's libraries under threat

More than half of Sheffield's libraries could be closed, unless community groups come forward to run them.

The city council is proposing to keep just 12 of the city's 28 libraries under council control, turning five into what it calls "community-led" libraries, given council funding, while eleven could become "independent" facilities, either run by volunteer groups or closed completely.

Sheffield began discussing library closures last year, with a consultation on potential cuts running in April. More than 10,000 people signed a petition to trigger a council debate on the cuts, which are aimed at saving £1.6m from its library service budget by 2016. Now, the council is looking at community groups who can take on the projects, ahead of a further consultation in October.

In a statement, the council said: "We have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient Library service and also to have a balanced budget. We cannot afford to provide the same level of financial support for libraries as we have in the past."

Library campaigner Geoffrey Dron said that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport's (DCMS) failure to intervene in similar cases of widespread closures led councils to make these cuts. He said: "The refusal of the DCMS to intervene in the Bolton, Brent, Isle of Wight and Lewisham cases has emboldened local authorities to act in this way. Closing libraries or handing them over to volunteers has become an easy substitute for radical solutions such as sharing services which would upset vested interests in local government."

Similar processes are underway in other local authorities. In Neath Port Talbot, the council has proposed closing either seven or nine of the 17 library buildings, saving up to £238,000.

Russell Ward, the head of partnership and community development at Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council told the South Wales Evening Post: "This review proposes that there are a number of libraries that are not viable in terms of public usage and of cost effectiveness, size and are no longer fit for purpose. Library services are changing in any event, which has led to a need to review the pattern of service delivery. Stronger community participation and widening the appeal are essential for the service to prosper."

Similarly, in north Wales, further cuts are on the cards, with Flintshire County Council reviewing its library and leisure services following an £800,000 overspend on recent leisure centre developments. A new report being considered by councillors said: "In the current and predicted future economic climate the current level of assets cannot be sustained. There is a clear necessity to review the current portfolio ensuring value for money and sustainable provision.”

This month, Moray Council in Scotland decided to close seven of its 15 libraries, a decision which could be met with a legal challenge. At the start of the month, Sunderland City Council agreed to shut nine of its 20 libraries in an attempt to save £850,000 a year.