Library services could be slashed

Ripon Library.

Ripon Library.

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Fears have been raised that Ripon Library could close under budget slashing proposals unveiled by the county council.

Launching a three-month consultation on cutting £3.6m from its libraries budget by 2020, the local authority this week said it was proposing to reduce staffing in Ripon from seven posts to just one employee while relying on an unspecified number of volunteers to help operate the service.

But questions over whether enough volunteers will come forward to help run the library have left Ripon politicians worried over its survival.

Coun Peter Horton (Ind, Ripon South) said: “I am not sure where we are going to get the volunteers from. The other alternative if they can’t get the volunteers is that it will close, so I am a bit concerned about that.

“It is all part of the council’s efforts to save money – that is the main reason they are doing it, but I would like to see the library service retained as much as possible.”

Coun Bernard Bateman (Con, Ripon North) has also raised concerns about whether a team of volunteers and just one employee would be able to keep the library operating.

“Ripon is a large library and it needs running by paid and experienced staff,” said Coun Bateman.

“It is not logical to expect it to be run by one member of staff, you couldn’t do it. It would be a free-for-all because volunteers are not responsible in that way.”

But with the consultation at an early stage, Coun Bateman still hopes Ripon Library can be saved.

“I don’t think there is going to be anything that is going to affect Ripon library and certainly I will fight to make sure nothing does,” he said.

“It is definitely not fixed in stone because we have not been consulted on it yet.”

Under the plan outlined by North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC), the local authority would still pay for the management of the building on The Arcade.

Plans to cut the libraries budget by £3.6m are part of North Yorkshire County Council’s overall scheme to save £167m.

It has already saved £2m from the libraries budget, with nine libraries across the county already community-managed, but now the council needs to save an additional £1.6m.

The latest raft of proposals affect 32 of the county’s libraries with the local authority proposing to retain a “core” library in each of North Yorkshire’s seven districts, with the library in Harrogate town earmarked for our district’s core centre.

Ripon Library, because it would have a mixture of paid and volunteer staff, would be classed as a “hybrid” library along with Filey, Knaresborough, Pickering and Whitby, which would also each have one paid employee as part of the scheme.

Under the proposals Boroughbridge Library would be classed as “community managed”, receiving arm’s length professional support from the “core” libraries but run solely by volunteers.

Coun Chris Metcalfe, NYCC executive member for library and information services, said: “The cuts that have come over the last few years have become quite substantial and NYCC cannot continue to run the whole range of services it once did, therefore what we are looking to do is redesign the way we are running those services in partnership with communities.

“Ripon has a very busy library and it would be unfair to expect communities to pick up and run a library of that volume, so we have a basic element of NYCC staff and support in there and recruit a large number of volunteers to work around that.

“But this is not a given. Financially we are in a difficult place but that does not mean we won’t listen.”

The consultation runs until February 2015 and a report will be given to council members in June 2015.

The public can attend consultation events at Boroughbridge Library on Friday, November 21, from 2-6pm, and at Ripon Library on Monday, December 8, from 2-6pm.

They can also complete an online survey at www.northyorks.gov.uk/libraryconsultation

– What do you think about the county council’s proposals for the future of our library services?

Email your views to news@ripongazette.co.uk or write to: The Editor, Ripon Gazette, 1 Cardale Park, Beckwith Head Road, Harrogate, HG3 1RZ.