Council leaders have revealed all the city’s libraries could be on track to remain open as they announce a proposed £262,000 deal to help local community groups implement their business plans for running independent libraries.
Three months of high profile consultation on a report outlining the future proposals for Sheffield’s library service led to calls from volunteer groups willing to run local libraries independently that they needed some funding to help them run a sustainable library.
And today the Council is revealing it will be able to fund the cost the groups across the city say they need after listening and acting on the views of the consultation.
The Council last year announced proposals to keep 12 key libraries, including Central Library, running, with Tinsley remaining as a Council library for the next two years.
A further five were proposed as community-led co-delivered libraries with the rest to become independent libraries.
The rest were able to stay open provided groups came forward with business plans to run them independently. Today Council leaders are also revealing that each of these libraries in the city now has a business plan outlining how it could be run by volunteers, which the Council has supported with help and advice.
The announcement of the funds should be able to secure the future of the city’s library service, keeping as many libraries in the city open for as long as possible. The money will be used to pay for running the premises including heating, lighting and other associated costs which volunteer groups wanting to run the libraries said they would struggle to meet.
Councillor Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Inclusion said:
“It is of course something I am delighted to be able to announce today – that we can help to secure the future of all the city’s libraries with this extra support. And it is great news that business plans have been submitted by volunteer groups to run all the independent libraries.
As I have said many times before during this process, we want to keep as many libraries open as possible. The savings we have to make are a result of harsh Government cuts which are placing a heavy burden on northern cities such as Sheffield. Now there should be no reason for libraries not to be run as was proposed.
I can reveal more than 7,000 people had their say in this recent consultation. Today’s outcome should prove to all those who doubted the process of democracy that we are a Council that listens and acts on what people say they need.
We are now recommending this extra investment to give community groups the chance to make a success of the independent libraries they will run.”
It will be the independent libraries that benefit from the extra £262,000 cash boost. Under this new proposal, the independent libraries will be able to ‘bid’ for money from the pot, which will also give library users access to the Council’s catalogue, pay for volunteer training and IT security arrangements. They will be able to access this extra cash for up to three years. Subject to Cabinet approval of these proposals, the Council will work with community groups to finalise their business plans by the summer.
As well as responding to specific issues raised by community groups, the proposed new money responds to feedback from the wider public about the importance of libraries for older and disabled people and in helping to promote health and well-being.
The Council is proposing to use public health funds for this after the consultation revealed having access to a local library service improves people’s health and wellbeing and will challenge health inequalities in the city.
One of the community groups that can benefit under these new proposals has submitted plans to run Stannington Library. STAND (Stannington and District Library Group) spokesman Bob Mynors said:
“Of course it is disappointing that the council has to submit proposals like this at all, but we understand they have done so in response to Government cuts. We would prefer to see this as a community co-delivered library with professional librarian support, but failing that we have outlined a plan to run Stannington library independently if that is the only way to keep it open. Having funding towards this would be tremendously helpful. The last thing we would want to face is a big utility bill just months into taking over the reins. On that basis we welcome anything which would see us able to meet initial running costs as we get ourselves established.”
The consultation ran for three months in 2013 and ended in January 2014. Over 7,400 people completed a survey to tell the Council what they thought of the proposals for libraries. Most of the responses received were from people who would be most affected by the changes.
Using the consultation, both library users and non-library users told the Council that their biggest worry was a longer distance to travel to their nearest proposed ‘hub’ library. They also said that they were worried about the long term future of proposed community co-delivered libraries. When it came to independent libraries, people told the Council they were worried about the future of the service and getting a reliable service.
Cabinet will consider these new proposals for the future of the libraries service in the city at its meeting on Wednesday, 19 February. Ahead of this the proposals will be looked at by the city’s cross-party Scrutiny Committee.