Published: December 15, 2010
County Council names Highbridge Library on funding hit list

Somerset County Council has confirmed this week that it is likely to withdraw all funding from Highbridge Library and wants the community to run it instead.

The council announced on Wednesday (December 15th) that Highbridge Library in Market Street is on a hit list of 20 libraries across Somerset which it wants the community to run without any authority funding.

The proposed funding withdrawal is part of the council's £75million cost cutting exercise across all areas of services. The proposals will deliver a 25% saving on the current library budget of £5.4 million.

At the same time as Wednesday's announcement, the council said funding for Burnham-On-Sea Library is safe - however it added that there is potential for co-locating other public services in the library.

Members of the public will be invited to have their say about the proposals during a consultation event at Burnham's Princess Theatre in Princess Street on Tuesday January 4th from 11am to 2pm.

Cllr Christine Lawrence, who is responsible for community services, said in a statement: "These proposals would create a library service that is fit to face the future, making use of new technology and with the potential to work closely with local communities."

"These are extremely difficult financial times and, unfortunately, tough decisions have been made in all areas of council business, from roads to recycling and including libraries."

Town councillor Cllr Janet Keen recently said the library's opening hours have not helped its visitor numbers. "The decreased hours are having a spiral effect of reducing the usage, thus inadvertently providing the perfect excuse for closure."

Cllr Chris Williams added: "The County Council needs to carefully consider the socio-economic implications of considering its closure. Highbridge really needs a library - it can't close."

The County Council has previously said that Highbridge Library is among the worst performing libraries in Somerset by visitor numbers, making it difficult to sustain. A final decision on its future will be taken in February 2011.


Which 20 libraries are affected?
Under the proposals, the following Somerset libraries will not be funded: Highbridge, Bishop’s Lydeard, Bruton, Castle Cary, Cheddar, Dulverton, Glastonbury, Ilminster, Martock, Milborne Port, Nether Stowey, North Petherton, Porlock, Priorswood, Shepton Mallet, Somerton, South Petherton, Sunningdale, Watchet and Wiveliscombe.

How many staff would be affected by the proposals?
The number of staff who may be affected will not be known until the consultation process is complete and the decisions made in February 2011. Discussions are taking place with people in communities where the County Council is due to withdraw funding for the library. Such discussions may result in libraries being supported by local communities and this may result in community funding for some staff hours.

What sort of support and advice would the County Council give to community groups?
The County Council do not know exactly at this stage, and it will depend to a large degree on what sort of help communities say they want. Under both options for community involvement the Library Service would offer advice and coordination and may be able to support some IT costs.

How does self-service work? Has it been used elsewhere?
Borrowers would be able record the loan and return of items using the self-service units which will be installed in at least 10 of the 14 retained libraries. Staff, or possibly volunteers, would also be available in those libraries to help borrowers. About half of library authorities, including Dorset for example, and many more are likely to offer this in the next few years.

What consultation has taken place about changes to the Library Service?
The proposals and survey build on consultation work that has already taken place as part of the Library Review. In September and October ten focus groups were held with service users and interested community groups such as parish councils. A question has also been included in the current edition of Your Somerset which was distributed in November, and a question about the Library Service was included in an on-street survey of 1,000 people carried out at the end of October/Early November.

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