Suffolk: Plans Revealed To Keep Libraries Open

Suffolk County Council has revealed plans to keep all the libraries in the county open after around two thirds of them were put at risk because of government funding cuts.

All 44 of Suffolk's libraries will remain open if councillors approve plans put before them next week and then in December.

The proposals would see Suffolk County Council create an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS), an organisation working with, but independent from, the county council and free from council bureaucracy, to support the county's library network.

The IPS would hold charitable status, be able to benefit from an 80% reduction in property rates and apply for external funding.

It would predominantly be funded by a grant from Suffolk County Council, and use its resources to provide central support to all of Suffolk's existing, and future, libraries.

The new model would cost a maximum of £652k to set up but would be 27.6% cheaper to run than the current arrangement. It would mean library services in Suffolk would cost £6.487m a year, as opposed to their £8.961m running cost in 2010/11, without any library closures.

Much of the savings come from reducing management tiers and central staffing costs which would no longer be needed in the more slim line organisation. Staff currently working in libraries would be transferred into the IPS under TUPE employment rules. The council says there will be up to twenty job losses, but also says that includes vacancies which haven't been filled and that the overall management structure will be reduced to simplify the process.

Eventually, every library will have a community group involved and having a direct say in its day to day running. Supported by the IPS, community groups will be able to opt for a level of responsibility they feel able to take on. Seven pilot projects are currently being developed and will, from April 2012, be the first of these arrangements in action. Organisations running local libraries would become members of the IPS and elect its board.

Some of the pilot projects have demonstrated that it would be possible for libraries to raise a small amount of money through activities like fund raising, membership schemes and generating income. Local library organisations will therefore be asked to contribute just 5% of the direct running costs of their library, £100k a year in total, significantly less than the financial contributions being discussed at the beginning of the year. Through the IPS, the county council would fund 95% of the direct costs of running the libraries.

Councillor Judy Terry, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for libraries, said:

"The model we’ve developed will put Suffolk’s library service on a strong and sustainable footing for the future. It’s fully costed on the basis of keeping the full library network open.

We want to free the library service from unnecessary council bureaucracy so that it can thrive and move with the times. Giving people a genuine say over how their library is run is also important and this model does exactly that.

The proposals we’re putting forward will mean Suffolk County Council retains its statutory duties to provide library services whilst creating a service fit for the twenty first century. I’d like to pay tribute to our officers who’ve worked tirelessly on this project and to the community groups, organisations and people who’ve taken part in our consultation for the part they’ve played."

Nicky Morgan, Arts Council England’s libraries director, said:

"Arts Council England is grateful to Suffolk’s library service for their positive and innovative approach and for working in partnership with us on the Future Libraries Programme.”

Suffolk County Council Cabinet members will also be asked to decide on the future of the county’s mobile library service. The service costs £600k a year to run with six mobile libraries (plus a back up) serving approximately 7000 people in 361 communities across Suffolk. Over the last decade, mobile library customer visits have reduced by 32% and loans have decreased by 37% - even though customers can borrow up to 20 books at a time.

Following a six week consultation in which 1237 people shared their views, councillors will be recommended to reduce the frequency of mobile library visits from fortnightly to four weekly (as is the case in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire) and stop visiting towns and parishes that already have a library building serving the community. The majority of people who responded said the changes would not stop them using mobile libraries.

The council says that no one currently using the mobile library service would be left without access to library services as they would offer alternatives (such as the At Home Library Service and outreach services) for those who say they would no longer be able to get to a library.

If the main library proposals are supported by Suffolk County Council's Cabinet on 8 November, they will then go before the next meeting of the Full Council (15 December) for final decision. Cabinet will take a decision on mobile libraries on 8 November.

The council would then work to set up the IPS by spring 2012.

Hear More From Councillor Judy Terry