Volunteers are free to run 15 of Sheffield’s branch libraries – after the Secretary of State said an inquiry into last month’s changes to the service is “not necessary.”
Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy at the Government’s department for Culture, Media and Sport, was asked to carry out an inquiry into the changes in library provision in Sheffield after claims by a local campaign group that the council is not meeting its duties under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.
However, in a letter to Sheffield City Council sent yesterday (Wednesday, 29 October), Mr Vaizey says he is “not currently minded” to order an inquiry into its library changes and that “there is nothing in SCC’s proposals which would justify intervention.”
He adds that “decisions about local issues should be taken by democratically-elected local representatives” and that the city council has been “mindful of its duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service in the broader context of a need to balance its budget.”
Mr Vaizey also describes the council’s consultation process as “thorough and well considered” and says “careful thought” has been given to “ensuring that library services continue to be available to residents on an efficient and accessible basis.”
He has now asked any interested party to add further representations by Thursday, 20 November, before he makes a final decision.
Councillor Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Health, said: “We are delighted that the Minister is not planning to carry out an inquiry into our library changes as things stand. He intervened very late in the day after having information for months, in a move that could have ultimately closed library branches. Obviously we’re waiting for him to confirm his decision but things look positive.
“We’ve worked really hard with the people of Sheffield to find a solution that works for the city in the face of searing funding cuts. The response from the volunteer groups has been fantastic and it’s thanks to them that all our libraries remain open.
“I’m very pleased the Minister has recognised that our decision making was robust and involved proper consultation.”
Volunteer groups took over responsibility of 13 Sheffield libraries on Monday, 29 September, with two other branches soon to change hands.
The council continues to run the Central Lending Library and 11 ‘hub’ libraries. It also continues to run the Tinsley branch until 2016 when lease commitments run out.
The changes to Sheffield’s library service will save an estimated £1.67m over the 2014/15 and 2015/16 financial years.