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Volunteers to help run Black Country libraries under cost-cutting plans

Sandwell | News | Published:

Volunteers will be drafted in to help run libraries and town halls in one Black Country borough under new cost-cutting plans being considered by council bosses.

Community groups would take over the day-to-day management of the venues from Dudley Council. It comes as the authority continues its battle to make savings of at least £27million during the next three years.

It also follows similar moves elsewhere in the region which could see community organisations take on libraries in Staffordshire and volunteers drafted in to run some in Sandwell.

As well as Dudley's 13 libraries, Dudley Town Hall, Stourbridge Town Hall and the Cornbow in Halesowen are under consideration for a transfer in management from Dudley Council.

An agreement has already been made for Dudley Council for Voluntary Service to run Brierley Hill Civic Hall on a trial basis.

Council leader Councillor Pete Lowe, who took over from Councillor David Sparks last month, said: "What is that town hall there to do? I would argue it is there to serve community.

"Most people who see things like Jason Manford aren't concerned who manages the venue, what they are concerned about is if they can go and if it is accessible or not.

"One of the things we are doing now is to identify those people in the community who would be the best drivers to manage and look after some places like town hall and libraries."

He added: "The voluntary sector groups recognise that in the economic environment the council can't support a number of organisations in a way we have traditionally done.

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"We recognise that if we notify them early enough about what is in line two or threes years down the line, we can start to look at innovative ways to address that shortfall. "

Under the scheme the council would still own the building and be responsible for repairs.

In Staffordshire, community organisations could take on 24 of the county's 43 libraries under plans aimed at saving £1.3m over the next three years.

While Sandwell Council has also been considering a similar move as part of a review of five of its libraries.

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In Wolverhampton staff numbers at the city's libraries have been reduced from 156 to 79 under £123million cuts.

The number of hours libraries are staffed has dropped from 656 hours per week to 421.

Some libraries are manned for as little as 15 hours per week, while others such as Blakenhall Library are self-service.

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