Fresh fears over future of libraries as Suffolk County Council budget cut proposals revealed

Stradbroke Post Office and Library ANL-160203-130658009
Stradbroke Post Office and Library ANL-160203-130658009

There are fresh fears over the future of libraries in Suffolk after proposed county council cuts of £230,000 were revealed.

Suffolk Libraries, a not-for-profit, independent and charitable organisation set up in 2012, looks after all 44 libraries in the county.

The larger sums required will almost certainly mean we can’t carry on providing the library service in the same way

Tony Brown, Chair, Suffolk Libraries

But in papers ahead of Suffolk County Council’s Scrutiny Committee meeting on November 30, proposes another cut to their budget.

The papers say the aim is there will be no “detrimental” impact on the service, and there were no plans to close any libraries.

Suffolk Libraries said the proposed cuts were on top of a £350,000 reduction in funding for the current year, which they had “accepted with reluctance”.

Tony Brown, Chair of Suffolk Libraries Board added it would be “impossible” to implement further cuts without it having an effect on services.

“We pledged to work constructively with the council on the longer-term future of the county’s library service and offered them a plan in June in which we suggested ways we could save money over a longer period, and which would allow us to keep library opening hours intact,” he said.

“Five months later, it’s disappointing to see that the council’s budget proposals do not reflect the alternative plans we presented. The larger sums required will almost certainly mean we can’t carry on providing the library service in the same way.”

“However, we are still in discussion about the final sum. People will be consulted on any changes and we will strive to minimise the impact on customers, and ensure that people will still have access to the same wide range of services and activities in their community.”

“Suffolk Libraries’ Board is committed to keeping libraries open and for local services to flourish. The Suffolk community has shown a huge amount of support for local libraries over the past few years, and this has never been more needed, or valued.”

Alison Wheeler, Chief Executive of Suffolk Libraries, said: “We recognise that public-sector funding is decreasing, and in response Suffolk Libraries has since 2011, with stringencies and economies, saved more than 30% of the original library budget without affecting local services.”

“In terms of relative cost – for every £1 spent by the Council, less than 1 penny is spent on the library service. The library service actively contributes to several of the county’s key priorities which include support for vulnerable people, raising educational attainment, supporting small businesses and empowering communities.”

“Suffolk Libraries is now in its fifth year of operation and each year it has lived within its means and saved increasing amounts of council tax. This has only been done with the sustained hard work of library staff, help from community groups, local volunteers and support from library customers.”

“With this extraordinary support, we have together ensured that all Suffolk libraries are still open, local library opening hours have been sustained and the services people enjoy, and which we know make a difference to people’s lives, have continued to flourish.”

Cllr Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for Finance and Heritage, said: “These are unprecedented times for local government and we have been open with Suffolk Libraries about the pressures on our budget.

“We value the partnership approach we have developed with them and have been working with Suffolk Libraries to support their transition plan, while engaging in a genuine negotiation with them over the contract price for 2017/18.”