Library services in budget review

Published: 5 November 2010

Councillors are being asked to consider changes to library services in the borough as part of the nationwide efforts to reduce public spending and repay the UK’s budget deficit.

Councillors will be presented next week with a series of options affecting local library services as the council seeks to make £55m worth of savings over the next four years.

The coalition government's recent comprehensive spending review announced that all local authorities in England and Wales would see their central Government grant cut by 27 per cent over the next four years. This represents a loss of at least £55m in income to Wandsworth between now and 2014.

With the town hall having to examine every element of its spending and seek efficiency savings wherever possible, elected members are now being asked to endorse plans to make savings to the libraries budget.

Environment and culture spokesman Cllr Sarah McDermott said: "We are going to have to make some very tough and unwelcome choices as we face up to playing our part in the difficult task of getting the nation's finances back on track.

"Unfortunately the totally unsustainable amount of debt that the nation is saddled with means that councils up and down the country are being confronted with some very difficult decisions on spending and services.

"What we cannot and will not do is ask the council tax payer to pick up this tab. With the finances of local families and pensioners already stretched it would be wrong of us to add an extra burden by pushing up council tax. We want Wandsworth to remain a low tax council and will be aiming to peg any increases in our bills to at or below the rate of inflation."

One option that councillors are being asked to consider would see the closure of the borough's six smaller neighbourhood libraries. This would save just under £1.2m a year in running costs and leave residents still able to use the remaining five main town centre libraries.

These five modern state-of-the art town centre libraries accounted for just under 75 per cent of all visits to branches last year.

An alternative option councillors will be asked to consider would see all the borough's libraries operating reduced hours accompanied by the closure of just one of the smaller neighbourhood libraries - York Gardens.

York Gardens issued the least number of books last year and also has he lowest number of active
adult borrowers of any local library. It currently has the lowest number of visitors.

York Gardens is also the most expensive of all the borough's libraries to run in relation to its visitor numbers. It costs taxpayers £4.09 for every visitor, compared to £2.41 for the neighbourhood library at Roehampton and £2.34 for Battersea Park.

The net cost for each book loan is £4.42 at York Gardens compared to £3.53 at Roehampton and £3.49 at Battersea Park.

If York Gardens were to close, its users would still be well served by libraries. Battersea Library is little over half a mile away while Battersea Park, Northcote and Wandsworth Town libraries are all roughly one mile away.

Closure of York Gardens could save the council up to £219,000 a year. If this option were combined with reduced opening hours at other local libraries, which would on its own save £563,000, the total saving would be some £782,000.

Officers have also identified an additional saving of £73,000 in the way that the service's £546,000 book purchasing budget is managed. Officers are also conducting a review of senior management staffing levels that could deliver additional savings.

Cllr McDermott added: "Wandsworth has always had a very well funded and high quality library service. With a total of 11 branches serving the borough, residents have always enjoyed extremely good access to library services.

"We know that changes are going to have to be made, but we will be doing all we can to ensure that the impact of these changes is minimized and that our long-standing and hard-won reputation for excellence continues.

"My own view is that given the difficult financial circumstances we face the option I favour would be to reduce opening hours and close the branch at York Road, but it will be up to my colleagues and members of the public to determine which choice is finally made."

Councillors on the environment, culture and community safety scrutiny committee will be discussing the changes at their meeting on November 15. They are expected to recommend that both options are submitted for full and widespread public consultation in the months ahead.


ENDS

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