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Fears for libraries' future in 'cash-driven' changes

Staffordshire | News | Published:

Serious concerns have been raised about the future of libraries in Cannock Chase, with fears of a 'significant loss' of services.

The comments are part of the district council's formal response to a public consultation into the planned shake-up of library provision across Staffordshire.

Cannock Chase council leader George Adamson said there were many holes in the county council's proposed 're-shaping' of library services.

And he claimed the cuts were financially driven after a decision made in December last year that £1million savings would have to be made in library services by 2016-17.

He said: "This was prior to any public consultation. In effect, the county has already decided in principle that it will be reducing the current level of service despite its statutory obligations."

The proposals would see community organisations take on 24 of the county's 43 libraries. Both Cannock and Rugeley libraries will continue to be managed directly by the county council but with a small reduction in opening hours.

However libraries at Brereton, Heath Hayes, Hednesford and Norton Canes have been categorised as 'local' with the expectation that community groups provide the services.

Councillor Adamson said he was concerned that these libraries would not have professionally qualified staff available, 'significantly decreasing the quality and effectiveness of the service.'

He said: "Librarians are experts in being able to guide and advise customers to what they want and it seems to me that this denigrates the whole library experience."

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He also called for clarification of what would happen if there are not community organisations available to manage the libraries and also if groups took on the responsibility but then dissolved.

See also: Where the axe will fall in £102m Staffordshire cuts.

He said: "My concern is that there will be a significant loss of library provision in the district in these circumstances in future years."

He also asked for an assurance that there would be no more reductions in opening times at Cannock and Rugeley libraries, which have the most borrowers and the highest number of visits.

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The letter, signed by Mr Adamson on behalf of the cabinet, compares the county council unfavourably to Birmingham City Council which invested in its award-winning £189 million central library, noting it is now also open on Sundays.

He noted that 'regrettably' Staffordshire County Council viewed libraries as 'a source of savings and service reductions ' rather than as a long-term investment in learning, skills and young people.

The leader concluded: "It is financial factors that are driving the proposals rather than digital innovation or changes in customer requirements which appear to be secondary factors."

The letter is addressed to Mike Lawrence, cabinet member for communities and localism, who launched the 12-week consultation which ended on Tuesday.

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