Northamptonshire County Council continues to experience financial issues.
With continued cuts in funding from central government, the council has also failed to plan to generate funding to cater for the shortfall, failed to sensibly increase Council Tax for several years, and failed to adequately budget year-on-year.
This has led to the council looking to get through short periods of time, dealing with financial crises to plug budget gaps each year.
They have now recognised that they need to deal with a funding gap for this financial year, and decided to try and save an additional £37m from next year’s budget.
They are looking to cut £1.2m from funding for libraries through closures or handing over libraries to community bodies. The council is currently undertaking a public consultation whereby their are offering three options which are all variations of closures and handovers.
£1.2m isn’t a huge saving in relative terms to how much they need to save, and with all of the services that are offered through libraries and the role that they play within the community, any loss will far outweigh the relatively small investment that they cost the County Council to operate.
Based on Census 2011 figures, the savings through made should the council implement one of their options would be around 3.3p per person per week in Northamptonshire. In reality this would actually be even less than that figure as the population in Northamptonshire has grown greatly since 2011 as we have one of the fastest growing populations in the UK.
Libraries are public assets, with their worth being much greater than the cost to operate them.
Lots of services are available in libraries – this includes:
Libraries can offer all of these services because of them being operated by the County Council, funded centrally and benefiting from the economies of scale.
Offloading libraries to be operated by other businesses or community groups could see the range of services cut or slashed as they will cost more to run. Some services may not be deemed as commercially viable, or not able to be run with just volunteers.
Relying on volunteers restricts the talent pool for staff to those that have free time available to offer, but it also means that they can’t be expected to always be available when the library needs. Their normal lives, rightly, will need to come first.
Running a library is a vocation that takes a particular set of skills and requires professional training. Under alternative operating models such as community ownership run by volunteers, will there be the funding available to ensure those skills can be developed and training undertaken?
Libraries need to be operated by professionally qualified staff, and they need to be paid properly and given career training and advancement opportunities.
Whilst Northamptonshire County Council may make services attractive to be transferred initially, once the transfer has taken place it will then be for the new owner to run – and the ongoing costs may prove too much without central funding from across the county.
Unless it is the same organisation for all libraries in the county, then they will not be able to benefit from the economies of scale that our libraries currently enjoy. This would also impact any libraries that remain in the council’s ownership as there will be less of them.
We are also concerned that in the future the council may look to offload libraries that are not currently at risk to try and make more short-term savings.
Additionally, the County Council has a statutory obligation to provide accessible services to all residents in the county. That doesn’t mean that libraries necessarily have to be close to residents, but they do need to be accessible.
This means that if any library does get handed over to another organisation and fails, the County Council will then be responsible for ensuring that the services continue. However if they haven’t budgeted to do so this puts them in an impossible position, They will have to find the funds they hadn’t expected to do this.
Unfortunately, alongside cuts to libraries, the County Council are also looking at removing all bus subsidies. Bus subsidies by their very nature are provided to allow socially required services for routes that aren’t commercially viable.
This allows those that can’t drive, or have mobility issues, or are elderly, to get to the shops, to get to work, to get to the doctor or hospital, and of course to get to the library.
Cutting libraries and bus subsidies could then lead to people becoming less mobile and less social – meaning some of our vulnerable residents may end up staying in their own home, and this could have an impact on mental and physical health that would increase costs to the council in helping residents in those areas.
For all of these reasons, we feel that cutting funding from libraries won’t ultimately save the money that Northamptonshire County Council expects it to and could end up costing it and residents more.
The savings proposed are relatively small and for a very short-term gain, but the loss to our communities will be very great.
Northamptonshire County Council is proposing three options, all of which include cuts to our libraries, with the potential of the closure of some libraries or handing them over to other organisations to run.
There are currently 36 libraries, plus the mobile library, owned and operated by the County Council. The consultation options all remove the mobile library and offload the vast majority of libraries within the county. Options 1 and 2 only retain 15 libraries to be operated by the council, and option 3 only retains 8 libraries to be operated by the council.
We feel that this is a “sham consultation”, and that the County Council has already made the decision to cut services and are only offering three different options for cuts in order to be able to say “the public backed this option of cuts”.
If the consultation was a true consultation of the public, then there would be an option to retain all of the libraries in public ownership and operated by the County Council. This is what we are calling “Option 4”, and you can read more about it on the next question below.
“Option 4” is the campaign for an additional option to be considered by the County Council. It is a “none of the above” option to the three that are being offered through the council’s public consultation (which you can read about on the previous question above).
Option 4: to keep ALL of Northamptonshire’s libraries open, in permanent public ownership and operated by professionally trained staff, for the benefit of all residents in the county.
We are asking residents to support the Option 4 campaign by signing petitions, taking part in events and sharing on Social Media. This website links all of the different local library campaigns together and is the central online hub for the campaign.
When sharing on Social Media, we are asking you to use the hashtags #Option4 and #Libraries4Life. Doing this will help us to make the biggest impact in the hope that the County Council will take notice.
Additionally, please visit our “Action Toolkit” to find out how else you can help.
At present, different libraries are at risk under the County Council’s three proposed options. Only Option 4 removes the risk for all 36 of our public libraries.
You can find out more about the County Council’s plans in their three options by clicking here.
The County Council has a recent history of going from one financial crisis to another, and having to find ways to find funding shortfalls quite regularly.
This has meant that there hasn’t been proper planning to deal with the continued cuts from central government, nor overspends taking place each year.
We are concerned that once the council has offloaded most of our libraries for a short-term gain of not very much money, that they will come back again to offload the remaining libraries at a later date.
Furthermore we are concerned that there could be an element of a divide and conquer campaign, making it easier to get rid of some libraries by turning communities against each other to fight only for their own library.
We are concerned that there could be an element of a divide and conquer campaign, making it easier to get rid of some libraries by turning communities against each other to fight only for their own library.
We feel that working together in a united front to save all of our libraries is not only the right thing to do as all libraries are important, but it also offers us the strongest chance by not turning our communities against each other.
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