A new website has just been launched across Northamptonshire in response to the County Council’s latest proposed cuts to library funding.
There are currently 36 libraries in Northamptonshire and the proposals offer three options to cut funding which could threaten all but eight of the biggest libraries. The council’s idea is that local communities will somehow take on the responsibility of running and funding over libraries although clearly, a large number will simply close.
Since details of these proposals have become public, more and more people are coming to the view that none of those three options being offered is practical (details of the proposals can be found at the link below), and the only sensible response from the public is to call for an option that isn’t being offered as part of the council’s public consultation; Option 4 – none of the above!
At most NCC aims to save £1.2m a year from this proposal which is a lot of money. But it’s actually relatively ‘small beer’ when put in the context of the more than £37m they are aiming to save from next year’s budget and when you consider the controversial nature of these plans.
Libraries are a great community resource and all sorts of people up and down the county use them. Parents and young children use them, not least because some children’s centres have been closed and their activities moved into libraries during a previous cost-cutting exercise (these services are now at risk), the elderly use them, students and people from across the community.
Libraries are no longer just about lending books, they are community hubs where people meet and can take part in a range of archives and access the internet and all sorts of services. That was what the new branding ‘Library Plus’ was all about.
These proposals are not being driven by lack of use, the demand is there! So how has this suggestion come about?
The current administration at the council has made no secret of its desire to reduce the size of the council. They believe that if people want local services they should not rely on the council, and pay for them themselves. This has been spoken about time and time again by councillors and even though it doesn’t say that explicitly, the wording of the Council Plan has that theme all the way through the document.
But the main driver surely has to be financial. The council have mismanaged their finances for many years and are currently in the worst possible position. A fact emphasised by a recent independent report that concluding that ‘time is running out for the County Council’ and put a lot of blame on the councillors in charge who they said lacked understanding of what they had been doing.
The council’s financial position is getting worse and worse and unless things improve soon then central government will be left with no choice but to step in. A huge decision for them as taking over a locally elected council really is an emergency option.
To that end the council’s leadership have recently started a campaign to try and get more money out of the Treasury (some have said they should have done this years ago), and the deputy leader of the council may have let the cat out of the back regarding library closures the other day, when he said so far the government’s response to that request for more money was “why should we? You still run your libraries!”.
At the same meeting the leader of the council also said that in her area, the Town and Parish Council’s had already told her that they had the opportunity to raise money and all she had to do was ask. This refers to the fact that those councils are allowed to raise their proportion of the council tax without restriction. Desborough just outside Kettering, for example, had a 422% increase in their tax two years ago!
The Local Government Association has offered their expertise to help the council deal with its financial mess and I would ask the council to take up that offer as they clearly need help.
In the meantime the proposed cuts to library funding and the closures that will inevitably follow are a step too far, and the council needs to be told in no uncertain terms that enough is enough and these proposals need to thrown out and another way forward found, preferably by taking help and advice from the LGA, central government, or others.
This is why a county-wide website and Facebook page has been set up to promote #Option4 and help pull together all the various campaigns and protests that are currently taking place across Northamptonshire. There is a danger from ‘divide and conquer’: If individual libraries are forced to compete with one another there will be no winners. A strong voice is needed across the county and Option 4 gives that.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Option4Northants
What can you do to help?
The council’s official consultation page can be found here and is open until 13th January 2018: http://www3.northamptonshire.gov.uk/councilservices/council-and-democracy/budgets-and-spending/Pages/review-of-library-services-in-northamptonshire.aspx
Alternatively, emails can be sent directly to the council here email@example.com
And it would make sense to copy any email or thoughts directly to your local County Councillor as well: https://cmis.northamptonshire.gov.uk/CMIS5Live/Councillors.aspx#_ga=2.31856766.193629290.1509361070-1190880891.1447585437
You can also find a full list of actions to take on the Option 4 website’s “Action Toolkit” available here: www.Option4Northants.com/action-toolkit/