Councillor says that libraries can be maintained despite £1.4m cost
Staff have 'come through with flying colours' following cut to service
WEST Berkshire Council has insisted it can keep its library service running “for the next few years at least”, despite it costing the local authority £1.4m to run last year.
Faced with a £19m cut to its budget in 2016, the council considered closing eight of the district’s nine libraries, leaving just Newbury open.
But following Government advice and a public backlash, the council amended its proposal, cutting staff by 44 per cent and recruiting volunteers instead.
A report detailing the first year of the restructured service has revealed that the council spent £1,405,143, while generating £176,234 in income – a net cost of £1,228,909.
The spending breakdown includes £815,513 on staff, £300,124 on supplies and services and £289,506 on premises rates, energy and maintenance.
This was offset by an income of £176,234, generated through £89,772 of town and parish contributions, £74,923 of fees and charges and £11,539 of miscellaneous income.
The restructuring has saved the council around £580,000 a year.
In 2016, the district council asked the 59 town and parish councils in West Berkshire to contribute towards keeping their nearest library open.
The council was hoping to generate £150,000 through this scheme.
However, so far, the council has only received £89,772 from 20 town and parishes.
Towns and villages with libraries contributed £74,845, the largest being Newbury (£31,274) and Thatcham (£24,480).
Hungerford Town Council has not contributed as building costs were transferred to the town council in lieu of payment.
The council’s executive member for culture Rick Jones (Con, Purley-on-Thames) said he was confident that the service could be maintained.
He said: “We are planning and expecting around £90,000 [from towns and parishes] and we are looking at other sources of funding, such as grant funding.”
Mr Jones, who took over the portfolio from Dominic Boeck last month, said that parishes would be asked to commit again, but had to respond to their own pressures.
He said: “The feedback we are getting is libraries are more visible places than they were a couple of years ago and there is pressure on parishes to continue that contribution if they can.”
Mr Jones said that some parishes, like Burghfield, were looking at new community centres and that a library could be incorporated into the project.
“If we can combine community facilities, that has potential to make savings,” he said.
“A lot of libraries have groups and fundraising. We are pretty confident that we can maintain things for the next few years.”
Last year, 283 volunteers who rallied to keep their library open put in 10,147 hours across the district and there were 335,584 visits to a West Berkshire library last year.
The library report states that staff came through the changes “with flying colours”.
However, it acknowledges: “The changes have been difficult and staff do feel the added pressure while doing their best to provide as much service as possible within the capacity and resources available.
“They have really appreciated the support they receive from customers.”
Mr Jones added: “The volunteers are pretty essential now… because there’s now more people in the community working in the library, they are much more vibrant community spaces than they were before.”
When asked about the level of volunteers he said: “We don’t have any particular crises.
“Clearly they are volunteers and can come and go as they please; there’s a lot of enthusiasm to keep them going.
“I think there was quite a lot of cynicism that this was a money-saving exercise and this would not work, but I think people have realised we have ended up with better facilities.
“In some parts of the country they are entirely volunteer run.
“We have not gone that far, we are still a major funder, we supply all the stock and manage the service with professional staff. It seems to be working well so far.”
For more information on volunteering, visit www.westberks.gov.uk/volunteer