Libraries offered hope of lifeline

Oxford Mail: County council leader Keith Mitchell meets library camapigners in Kennington on Monday County council leader Keith Mitchell meets library camapigners in Kennington on Monday

COUNTY Hall is offering an olive branch to thousands of residents fighting to save their libraries.

A one-off pot of £450,000 has been created to fund services that residents want to escape the axe, based on consultations to be held in the summer.

So far, Oxfordshire County Council’s plan to cut all funding to 20 of 43 libraries has sparked the biggest public backlash.

The new cash could offer a short-term stay of execution for some, or all, of the threatened branches and allow campaigners more time to draw up plans to run libraries themselves.

But the consultation money could also be used to prop up other threatened services, including waste recycling sites and youth centres.

It could also reduce the impact of new on-street parking charges at evenings and weekends.

County Hall has already created a £600,000 pot to support ‘Big Society’ ideas, and at least £200,000 will be handed to groups wanting to run libraries.

The new fund was set up after Government funding for the authority was increased by £1.5m and council tax income was higher than expected, giving it an extra £800,000.

The Conservative-controlled council is cutting £119m from its budget over the next four years.

The library cuts would save £2m.

Council leader Keith Mitchell said: “People will have different ideas. But this [money] will give us a bit of breathing space.”

Despite a public outcry over libraries and high-profile attacks by authors such as Philip Pullman, Mr Mitchell said he hoped the cash would not be given on the scale of campaigns alone.

He said: “I would want to look at the ability of communities to respond so those communities not good at shouting don’t get muscled out by the people who are.

“If an area was losing a youth centre, a library and services for the elderly, we would want to look at mitigating the overall impact on that community.”

He said money would only be used to help keep branches afloat if residents could show they had credible long-term plans for their branch.

Campaigns have been launched to save almost all of the 20 threatened libraries.

Save Headington Library campaigner Sarah Eddie said: “This seems like good news but we need time to consider all the options.

“We are not keen to go down the Big Society route and bid against other groups.”

Save Botley Library’s Neil Clark said: “We are not interested in privatisation by a US multi-national or volunteer groups. We want them to reverse the policy, end of story.”

The council also announced funding cuts to 20 youth centres will take effect from summer 2011 instead of this May because the Government settlement and council tax windfall has given it a further £1.6m.

A 12- week consultation on library funding starts at the end of this month.

  • The council has begun “positive” discussions with managers from a US outsourcing firm who say they can run the service at a reduced cost.

Council officers agreed to meet Library Systems and Services after it claimed it could save millions and keep some or all branches open.

The firm is now studying the service’s running costs and will give proposals by February 21.

Council leader Keith Mitchell said: “The county council is willing to consider all options that would lead to a viable library service.”

LSSI UK vice-president Stuart Fitzgerald said: “Looking at central administrative costs of the library service can save them a significant amount of cash.”

Options are likely to include keeping all branches open with “sensible” opening hours and/or LSSI running about 35 and helping volunteers to run the rest.

Comments (4)

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9:10am Wed 9 Feb 11

West Oxon Webwatcher says...

Save Botley Library’s Neil Clark said: “We are not interested in privatisation by a US multi-national or volunteer groups. We want them to reverse the policy, end of story.
If he takes this attitude he deserves to see Botley library closed. Everyone must face up to the fact that there will not be enough money to go round and that economies have to be made. If Botley people are so convinced that their library is essential they should be prepared to do something to help reduce its running costs
Save Botley Library’s Neil Clark said: “We are not interested in privatisation by a US multi-national or volunteer groups. We want them to reverse the policy, end of story. If he takes this attitude he deserves to see Botley library closed. Everyone must face up to the fact that there will not be enough money to go round and that economies have to be made. If Botley people are so convinced that their library is essential they should be prepared to do something to help reduce its running costs West Oxon Webwatcher

12:26pm Wed 9 Feb 11

Headington mum says...

Any cuts to libraries should be fairly spread across the whole of the county - why should the people of Botley (or Summertown or Headington) have to meet the full costs of running their local library whilst libraries elsewhere in the county carry on as usual?

Also, if a private company can run the libraries more cheaply and still make a profit, doesn't that imply that the council could be making the same changes itself and saving even more money?
Any cuts to libraries should be fairly spread across the whole of the county - why should the people of Botley (or Summertown or Headington) have to meet the full costs of running their local library whilst libraries elsewhere in the county carry on as usual? Also, if a private company can run the libraries more cheaply and still make a profit, doesn't that imply that the council could be making the same changes itself and saving even more money? Headington mum

10:34pm Wed 9 Feb 11

RocketMan says...

"Headington Mum," makes some sensible comments, pity the County Council has not so far shown more constructive sense in finding more ways to keep the libraries open, rather than blackmail people with harsh alternatives. I appreciate they have difficult spending choices.

We all know once the skills of librarians are lost and premises closed these community facilities will NOT re-open and a valueable community upskilling cultural resource is lost for ever for present and future generations. Square that with declining literacy standards!

In short an act of vandalism, not just now, but for the future. Because libraries appear to be a "soft target." it is difficult to measure the effect on human development until many years after the damage has been done. In the meantime, a fat short term profit from the sale of premises will be frittered away on other pet projects.

I don't agree with closing libraries, in particular, I am against closure of Summertown library. Why Summertown? Does not seem a rational or a balance decision to me. But other libraries fall into this category also. But that is not entirely the point.

Before we get to closing libraries:-

1) We need to better convinced the top heavy"fat" has been taken out of bureaucracy. Other councils, and perhaps private companies, might do a better job, why can't Oxfordshire?
2) Why cannot more automated systems deliver economies of scale and greater efficiency.
3) Perhaps libraries should have coffee bars or other means of generating income? I realise they are restricted in some areas.
4) Why not have more variation in opening hours, which may encourage more use or find a way of keeping libraries open, so when the economy recovers these library hours can be
extended as well.

Closing libraries is a bad short sighted decision.
"Headington Mum," makes some sensible comments, pity the County Council has not so far shown more constructive sense in finding more ways to keep the libraries open, rather than blackmail people with harsh alternatives. I appreciate they have difficult spending choices. We all know once the skills of librarians are lost and premises closed these community facilities will NOT re-open and a valueable community upskilling cultural resource is lost for ever for present and future generations. Square that with declining literacy standards! In short an act of vandalism, not just now, but for the future. Because libraries appear to be a "soft target." it is difficult to measure the effect on human development until many years after the damage has been done. In the meantime, a fat short term profit from the sale of premises will be frittered away on other pet projects. I don't agree with closing libraries, in particular, I am against closure of Summertown library. Why Summertown? Does not seem a rational or a balance decision to me. But other libraries fall into this category also. But that is not entirely the point. Before we get to closing libraries:- 1) We need to better convinced the top heavy"fat" has been taken out of bureaucracy. Other councils, and perhaps private companies, might do a better job, why can't Oxfordshire? 2) Why cannot more automated systems deliver economies of scale and greater efficiency. 3) Perhaps libraries should have coffee bars or other means of generating income? I realise they are restricted in some areas. 4) Why not have more variation in opening hours, which may encourage more use or find a way of keeping libraries open, so when the economy recovers these library hours can be extended as well. Closing libraries is a bad short sighted decision. RocketMan

8:18pm Fri 11 Feb 11

fourmi says...

Neil Clark is perfectly entitled to campaign for a full reversal of this policy. Let's just remember that it's Conservative-led Oxfordshire County Council's policy, resulting in part from a funding decision made by Conservative-led government.

I accept that some cuts need to be made, but other councils have not chosen to make cuts in this area, and it is Conservative ideology that the central cuts should be so deep so fast.

I certainly wish our new MP for Oxford West and Abingdon had been asked whether she would support library closures in the election campaign. But then nobody was proposing them then, were they? So much for democracy.

I also see that David Cameron has had the cheek to blame Labour councils for "politically-motivat
ed" cuts to sensitive local services, while his own local council is doing exactly the same thing.

I would have some sympathy for Cllr Keith Mitchell's plight but the tone of his public comments about this and other issues gives the impression that he is rather enjoying the attention.
Neil Clark is perfectly entitled to campaign for a full reversal of this policy. Let's just remember that it's Conservative-led Oxfordshire County Council's policy, resulting in part from a funding decision made by Conservative-led government. I accept that some cuts need to be made, but other councils have not chosen to make cuts in this area, and it is Conservative ideology that the central cuts should be so deep so fast. I certainly wish our new MP for Oxford West and Abingdon had been asked whether she would support library closures in the election campaign. But then nobody was proposing them then, were they? So much for democracy. I also see that David Cameron has had the cheek to blame Labour councils for "politically-motivat ed" cuts to sensitive local services, while his own local council is doing exactly the same thing. I would have some sympathy for Cllr Keith Mitchell's plight but the tone of his public comments about this and other issues gives the impression that he is rather enjoying the attention. fourmi

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