Councillors asked to go ahead with controversial library reform

Lincolnshire County Council.

Lincolnshire County Council.

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Leading county councillors are being asked to approve a cut-down library service for Lincolnshire despite being embarrassed by campaigners in the courts over the matter last year.

In December 2013, the council’s executive agreed cuts to the library service - but was left red faced when a High Court hearing forced by campaigners caused them to re-think the plans.

Now, following additional work over the autumn, officers are recommending that councillors again endorse the plans that were previously agreed, with moves to hand over the running of the service to an outside body.

Under the proposals, the council would continue to provide 15 major libraries - including Boston – along with online services, mobile libraries and specialist support for those unable to reach their nearest library.

These would be complemented by up to 40 community hubs, including library services, developed in partnership with local community groups. The council says groups would get professional support and be given more than £5,000 per year towards their running costs and access to a one-off grant of up to £15,000 for changes to buildings or equipment.

In addition, officers are now recommending the council undertakes a ‘competitive procurement’ to seek an external organisation to deliver these services on its behalf, including the support for the community hubs.

This follows an approach by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), a not-for-profit organisation interested in running local libraries.

Coun Nick Worth, executive member for libraries, said: “Officers have put in a lot of work to address the issues raised during the court case.

“Having done so, they still believe the model previously agreed by the executive is the right way forward.

“Volunteers would be at the heart of that new-look service, and we have been keeping in close contact with those that have come forward as things developed.

“Because of the challenge from GLL, the executive will also be asked to look at potentially outsourcing our side of things.

“In light of the work that involves, it’s likely to take until the end of 2015 before a final decision is reached on who will run the service.

“I look forward to the views of the scrutiny committee and the debate at the executive meeting. However, I’m confident that the ultimate outcome will be a comprehensive and efficient service that meets the needs of residents.”

The recommendation will be discussed at a meeting of the Community and Public Safety Committee on January 27. A final decision will then be taken at a meeting of the council’s executive on February 3.

Coun Robin Hunter-Clarke, UKIP Parliamentary Candidate for Boston and Skegness criticised the council and says he thinks they are simply carrying on despite the campaign against library cuts.

He said: “This shows the stubbornness of the Conservative led executive at County Hall. There have been many good alternative proposals put forward but they appear not to have even been considered by the powers that be.

“What I cannot believe is that the proposed model is exactly the same as before the judicial review with no concessions or changes in anyway.

“The public came out in their thousands, signing petitions to oppose the changes – it appears to have all been ignored.

“The library changes will mean a reduction in the hours Boston and Skegness libraries open and the potential closure of 40 community hubs across the county in September unless the community takes them on at great expense themselves.

“There are also huge reductions in hours of opening to Bourne, Long Sutton, Woodhall Spa, Market Rasen and Horncastle. Mobile services will also be taking a hit – which are a valued service to our rural population.”

“The county council are also going to try and get a private firm to run the existing libraries for them to reduce costs from April 2016, which leaves a lot of uncertainty for the service and the staff in the future.

“It is utterly disgraceful how the Tory county council executive have treated the people of Lincolnshire, and I suspect this is their way of getting back at the residents for launching a judicial review against them.

The executive have learnt no lessons at all.

“I very much hope the Save the Lincolnshire Libraries group will be taking further legal action – and I will be available to give them any support they need if they need it.”

Coun John Hough, Labour leader of the opposition on Lincolnshire County Council said: “With breath-taking arrogance, the out of touch Tories have stuck up two fingers to 24,000 people of Lincolnshire who asked them to think again.

“They have refused to listen to anyone – including those who have shown how all our libraries can continue to be professionally-run, with no cuts to opening hours and within their required budget.”

Coun Phil Dilks, shadow executive member for libraries, said: “Instead, they are determined to blackmail communities desperate to keep their library by saying that unless they volunteer to take it on, it will close.”

He added: “The decimation was only stopped in its tracks thanks to campaigners being prepared to challenge their actions in the High Court.

“Today, the county council had a chance to show it was prepared to listen. Sadly, they have kept their heads firmly in the sand. The people of Lincolnshire deserve better and we will continue to fight on their behalf.”