Residents have reacted with anger at plans to shut down Highbridge Library early in 2019 unless a new community group can be formed to run the service.

As part of major cost-cutting plans, Somerset County Council announced on Tuesday (October 16th) its recommendations for the future of Somerset’s Libraries Service, with a final decision due next month.

The council has published a detailed report that sets out how Somerset’s Libraries Service would be delivered across the County.

The council recommends that 19 existing library buildings – including Burnham-On-Sea – will be retained.

However, for the remaining 15 library buildings, including Highbridge, Somerset County Council is seeking to develop ‘Community Library Partnerships’ (CLPs) where communities support library buildings in partnership with the council.

Residents speak out over library plans

Local residents have spoken out against the plans on Burnham’s Facebook page:

Holly Dorothy Rockett writes: “Disaster. Libraries are so important. You can take away everything from someone but you cannot take away a good education. With education you have the building blocks to start over.”

Alfy Mckay said: “I want to be apart of Saving the library. Without knowledge or stories from books, life is pointless.”

Mark Saunders said: “It’s absolutely disgusting that the council are cutting every thing to the bone. It’s always the vulnerable things that get cut. It’s about time the councillors all took a pay cut. Start at the top. These councillors should hang their heads in shame. I am sure they will trot out the same old c***. You have to pay the most to get the best. Well they are not the best! It’s about time the public voted them all out. And yes if l was a councillor l would take a pay cut.”

Lynn Vaughan said: “Everytime money is tight… cut the library, youth service, shut swimming pools. We have been here before fighting for BOS Library and the swimming pool! SCC, is there anything left now – what do the youth have locally? How dare they shut Highbridge library.”

Becky Lyons added: “I’d be interested in helping if a group forms.”

John Doh added: “Libraries are so important for communities. For the elderly often on their own they can be a lifeline. Times have changed and you just need a different business model. Irrigation of a cafe come art gallery or maybe post office.”

If the overall plans are approved, the slimmed-down libraries service across Somerset would save the cash-strapped 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.

A council spokesman added: “Where this proves not to be possible, library buildings will close and alternative means of delivering library services in communities such as outreach services and/or mobile library stops would be implemented.”

The 19 libraries where services are recommended to remain the same are: Bridgwater town centre, Burnham-On-Sea, Chard, Cheddar, Crewkerne, Dulverton, Frome, Glastonbury, Ilminster, Langport, Martock, Minehead, Shepton Mallet (likely to move to a new location, which would be determined next year), Taunton town centre, Wellington, Wells, Williton, Wincanton and Yeovil town centre.

Community Library Partnerships expressions of interest will now be invited from these 15 communities: Bishops Lydeard, Bruton, Castle Cary, Highbridge, Milborne Port, Nether Stowey, North Petherton, Porlock (with the aim to continue their existing Community Library Partnership in its present format), Priorswood (Taunton), Somerton, Street, South Petherton, Sunningdale (Yeovil), Watchet and Wiveliscombe.

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 and thank you to everyone who took part. It reinforced what we already knew; strong, thriving, modernised library services are as important to you as they are to us.”

“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. We’re now recommending changes to fewer libraries than set out in the original consultation proposals. We are also following up suggestions made by communities.”

Cllr Hall, right, added: “This is a once in a generation review. 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.”

The 15 communities which would be affected by the recommendations are now invited to submit a Community Library Partnership (CLP) Expression of Interest by mid-day on 15th November. If unable to agree CLPs, alternative library services as set out in the report would be implemented (such as outreach services and mobile van library stops) and library buildings could start to close from early 2019.

Cllr Hall added: “We are heartened by the number of communities interested in exploring CLPs. This model has worked well in Porlock for the last four years and in many other libraries across the country. We are committed to supporting CLPs through training, ongoing technical support, the provision of book stock (including a regular supply of new books) and ICT equipment such as computers, printers and scanners. Some would receive ongoing financial support. If we are unable to develop CLPs, we will meet our legal duty to provide library services in other ways.”

The recommendation report will go to Scrutiny Committee for Policy and Place on 24th October before Cabinet will make a final decision on 5th November. If approved, implementation would start from January 2019.

For a link to the council’s recommendation report, see here. For further details about the library services redesign, including further information on Community Library Partnerships, please click here.