Campaigners’ dismay as library cuts voted in

A pop-up library on the steps of the Lincolnshire County Council offices. Photo: @ShedsArrows. EMN-150302-153722001
A pop-up library on the steps of the Lincolnshire County Council offices. Photo: @ShedsArrows. EMN-150302-153722001

Volunteers will be forced to take over their libraries or see them close after councillors approved a plan to cut £2m from Lincolnshire’s service.

The 10-strong executive committee of Lincolnshire County Council voted in favour of the cuts at a meeting on Tuesday despite a huge public campaign.

The number of council-run libraries will drop from 47 to 15. Among those 15 are Stamford Library, which will have its opening hours cut from 55 per week to 50, and Bourne Library, which will be unchanged as it is part of the South Kesteven District Council community access point.

The council is likely to put these libraries out to tender unless, like Bourne, they are already in a partnership scheme.

All remaining libraries, including Deepings Library in Market Deeping, will face one of two fates. They will either be taken over by voluntary groups and turned into “community hubs” or will be replaced by a “super-mobile” library, which will visit for a minimum of four hours on a weekday evening or three hours on a Saturday every fortnight. These remaining libraries would not be included in the tender process.

The Friends of Deepings Library was set up under protest to look into the possibility of running the library. Volunteer groups chosen to run their library will be given a one-off sum of up to £15,000 for building work or equipment, £5,167 per year for operational costs, and up to 4,000 books.

“We are now left between a rock and a hard place,” said chairman Liz Waterland.

“There have been some noises about additional support for volunteers taking over larger libraries but we have no idea what that support might be, if anything, leaving us, at the moment, with the 11th busiest and 15th largest library in the county to run on £5,127 a year grant and with no professional staff.

“We have asked for a great deal of clarification but, ultimately, the decision will be the community’s. We will call a public meeting as soon as we have any clear information to put to it.”

In a statement promoting the “new-look library service”, the council today said the plans could result in “up to 40” of the volunteer-run community hubs.

Executive member for libraries Nick Worth (Con) added: “The way in which libraries are used is changing, not just in Lincolnshire, but across the country, and it’s important we adapt with the times.”

Coun Worth said he was confident that the library service would continue to be “comprehensive” and “much better value for money”.

Volunteer groups will be given until September 30 to take over libraries. The procurement process for the rest of the service is likely to take until the end of the year.

More than 9,000 people in and around the Deepings signed a petition calling on the council to rethink its plans.

The council was forced to hold a second public consultation after a challenge in the High Court, but officers still decided to back the original proposal to cut £2m from the service. The consultation, including the judicial review, has so far cost more than £720,000.