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Residents could end up paying more to keep libraries open

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Precepts set to rise as towns and parishes asked to cough up £150,000

EVERY household in West Berkshire could be asked to pay more to keep the district’s threatened libraries open.

West Berkshire Council wants every town and parish council to make a contribution so it can raise £150,000 towards the cost of running the library service.

How much each parish is being asked to pay depends on its population, but will equate to approximately £1 for every person.

And with many town and parish councils facing significant financial challenges of their own, many will be forced to consider raising their precepts – the amount of council tax they collect from residents.

In addition, volunteers are still being asked to come forward to help run libraries as West Berkshire Council needs to save £690,000 from its budget.

On Monday, West Berkshire Council’s executive member for culture Dominic Boeck said: “We have no choice but to ask because demand for council services is rising, and at the same time we are receiving less funding from central government.

“We have to adapt our library service to meet future need so that we can continue providing a good service while at the same time balancing our budget each year.”

He added: “Today we have written to them setting out what we think would be a fair contribution.”

West Berkshire Council had originally proposed to close eight of nine libraries before concerns were raised by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and campaign groups.

The council subsequently commissioned a Needs Assessment to determine the impact of any closure.

Based on the findings of the assessment, the council has put forward three options to public consultation – all involve cutting staffing and relying on volunteers.

The most drastic option would result in £645,000 being cut from the library budget, with all staff in seven branch libraries replaced by volunteers.

Another option would create a ‘hub and spoke’ library network, replacing half the staff at two branches and the remaining five run entirely by volunteers, saving an estimated £620,000.

The final option would see staffing levels at seven branches cut in half with volunteers taking up the slack, saving an estimated £580,000.

All options would see Wash Common library and one mobile library close.

Mr Boeck added: “I hope that anyone who loves their library, has some spare time and wants to give back to their community considers getting involved.

“We recognise that you will be supporting us and we will support you too to make sure volunteering is easy, enjoyable and rewarding.”

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