Highbridge Library is set to close down in 2019 after town councillors this week voted against a £20,000 rescue plan to save the facilities.
At a meeting on Monday night (November 12th), the Town Council decided not to commit funding towards keeping the library open in Market Street, Highbridge, after saying it had received no interest from local volunteers to help run it.
Cash-strapped Somerset County Council is cutting funding to library services across the county and recently identified Highbridge Library as one of 15 where ‘Community Library Partnerships’ are proposed for volunteers to run the library with the help of Town Councils.
But the deadline for the Town Council to submit a Community Library Partnership (CLP) Expression of Interest is 15th November, which will now pass with no bid submitted. The decision to submit a plan follows a full debate at Monday’s Town Council meeting.
At Monday’s meeting, Cllr Phil Harvey set out the costs of saving the library, saying: “The cost of keeping the library open could be added onto local Council Tax bills. A Band D tax cost would go up just 6p a week to generate £20,000 for the library to keep running.”
But Cllr Peter Clayton added: “Is there enough support from volunteers to run the library? What is the point of putting together £20,000 of funding when the library is so under-used?”
“If the worst comes to the worst and it closes, then the mobile library and an outreach service will still be available, so it’s not all doom and gloom.”
Cllr Andy Brewer added: “Earlier this year, we made a commitment to work with other parishes and interested parties to provide an enhanced library service but there’s been no commitment from other parishes and no other interested parties have come forward.”
Town Council Clerk Tatiana Cant said: “It would be a large commitment from this council to take it on. Unfortunately, Somerset County Council is not prepared to give more time and wait any longer than this Thursday.”
“We have explored all the options – there has been no interest from the other parishes to help with funding, no other interested parties have come forward, and there’s been little interest from schools.”
Cllr Janet Keen added: “It’s easy to get swept along in sympathy, but looking at it coldly, I use Highbridge library often and so many times I see that it is under-used. It’s not necessarily just because of the opening hours.”
“If there were other reasons to go into the library then it could help. But to be brutally frank, the residents have not demonstrated they they want to use it. There has to be a cold business assessment and the number of users is ridiculously small.”
“It’s not possible for us to put forward an expression of interest until we have the people confirmed who will run it – it’s a sorry state, but that’s sadly the way it is.”
Cllr Peter Clayton proposed that the Town Council support the outreach library service instead. In a vote, councillors voted eight for, four against and 1 abstained.
Reacting to the news, Highbridge resident Sheila Forrester, who was present at Monday’s Town Council meeting, told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “I’m very, very disappointed.”
She added: “It’s wrong that the Town Council is happy to make bids for hundreds of thousands of pounds for Burnham but it won’t give £20,000 to save Highbridge’s library from closure. It’s always Highbridge that suffers.”
The slimmed-down libraries service across Somerset will save the cash-strapped County Council £345,000 for 2019/20 to include £270K from the proposed reduction in operating library buildings and £75K from savings directly identified from consultation feedback such as reduction in management costs.
County Cllr David Hall, Cabinet Member with responsibility for libraries at Somerset County Council, said: “We received excellent feedback from this year’s library services consultation. Many people told us they would prefer no changes to our libraries service, however staying the same is not an option if we are to put the libraries service on a sustainable footing for the future. We have listened, and the recommendations have taken account of the feedback.”
“We are making funds available to support Community Library Partnerships and we are proposing to restructure libraries management in a bid to keep costs down.”
Cllr Hall added: “The network of library buildings in Somerset has remained unchanged for around 40 years. We have to modernise library services and re-design them to meet local needs more effectively. We need to strike the right balance of delivering a thriving, dynamic and comprehensive library service, which meets our statutory obligations, whilst living within our financial means.”