Staffordshire libraries face £1.5 million cuts in Tory U-turn
Libraries across Staffordshire are bracing themselves for £1.5 million plus of cuts over the next three years, as the County’s Conservative Council drops its commitment against closures.
The revelation, in a reply to Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly, comes as the County presses ahead with a consultation over the future of the service, with a deadline of the end of the month for responses.
Two years ago, in evidence to a House of Commons enquiry, the County Council pledged to keep libraries open, despite closures elsewhere across the country, forced by Government cuts.
‘There are no plans to close libraries in Staffordshire and this commitment comes from strong political support which is embedded in the County Council’s strategic plan,’ the County wrote to the Culture, Media & Sport Committee, on which Mr Farrelly sits.
‘When library provision is withdrawn, individuals are denied access to more than just books and will lose opportunities to learn, socialise, participate, contribute and volunteer within a safe and strong community,’ its unequivocal submission concluded.
Now, however, it is planning for £1.525 million of savings from 2014-17 from the annual £8.963 million budget of the library service, which employs 388 full- and part-time staff in all.
The figures are included in a response from Michael Lawrence, the County’s Cabinet member for Children, Communities and Localism, to a letter last month from Mr Farrelly, challenging the County to stick by its ‘no closures’ pledge.
‘This is the third County consultation about cuts in almost as many months – first Day Services for adults with learning disabilities, then Youth Services for vulnerable kids, and now Libraries again.’
‘Two years ago, it rightly said it would resist closures, but now in the face of further Government cuts, it seems to have crumbled. Yet again, this consultation will just go through the motions, because behind the scenes decisions already appear to have been made.’
Mr Farrelly has now written again, asking for details of the usage and costs of every library in each district of the County, including mobile library services.
He has also demanded details of the projected savings, of when, how and where they will be made, and how many libraries and staff will be affected.
As well as the main library in the Ironmarket, there are local libraries in Audley, Clayton, Knutton, Silverdale and Wolstanton in Mr Farrelly’s Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency, as well as wide-ranging mobile services. Clayton was the library he first used with his grandfather as a child.
Despite the projected savings, the County insists the current exercise is just an ‘informal engagement’, not a ‘formal consultation on the options’ for the future of the service.
After the soundings, it says the County’s ruling Cabinet will consider a range of options in the spring, before going out to a formal consultation in the summer.