The Harrogate Advertiser is backing a campaign to turn Starbeck Library’s fate around. In the face of council cuts, it is proposed the library becomes ‘community managed’, with no members of staff and no guarantee of premises costs being met. Fearful of closure, the community is being called on to petition NYCC to alter its plans so the community will not suffer the loss of its library. JAMES METCALF reports.
An incredible £65,500 may be needed to maintain Starbeck Library if NYCC support is pulled, according to Starbeck Residents’ Association.
Worried about how the community could raise this sum, the association has launched a campaign to save the library from expected closure in the face of budget and staff cuts from the county council.
In a letter sent out to residents, the association has said that downgrading the library to a ‘community-managed library’ run by volunteers and dependent on the community to meet the majority of costs means the library will close.
To prevent this, members of the community and library volunteers are fighting to get NYCC to maintain its support by making Starbeck a ‘hybrid’ library, as is proposed for Ripon and Knaresborough, where the cost of the premises and a member of staff would be met by the county council.
This, they say, would avoid the pressure of having to raise £65,500 every year - a figure questioned by county councillors, but which the association obtained from NYCC’s 2013/14 breakdown of costs.
Starbeck Residents’ Association chair Geoff Foxall told the Harrogate Advertiser he didn’t think the community could do it, and to lose the library as a result would be ‘catastrophic’.
He said: “Starbeck is not a very rich area, it is relatively deprived, and we have problems getting money for other things like the Christmas lights and the gala, so to meet the cost of the building would be very difficult.
“I don’t agree with the rationale of severe austerity cuts on this level. It has taken generations to build Starbeck library to this level and it would be catastrophic for Starbeck.”
Children at Starbeck Primary, less than half a mile away, currently use the library, along with older people and various groups, making it a community hub many would be sorry to lose.
According to the letter, the library has 939 registered users under 16 and 658 over 55-years-old, and £548,000 has been spent on a recent refurbishment.
As a result, many people involved with Starbeck Library, including a team of volunteers already committed to keeping it running, say help from NYCC is needed.
Chair of Starbeck Library volunteers group Julia Moseley said: “The library is invaluable. It is a library in the old fashioned term of the word but that is not all it does, it creates a social meeting place but it has also become a place, I feel, where if people have a problem or want to know something it is the library they go to first.
“I think it has got to be a bonus to have someone who has lots of expertise in their job on hand.
“We are incredibly lucky in Starbeck, our staff are superb. They have created the most welcoming atmosphere for people and their knowledge abounds, but however hard we try to do the job, they are the experts and that has got to be a loss.
“That is how I feel, and it would be wonderful if we could have at least one expert member of staff.”
Councillors representing Starbeck at Harrogate Borough Council and NYCC have spoken out in support of the letter and the petition available for residents to send to the council.
Coun Janet Law (Lib Dem), who is on the Starbeck Library committee, said: “£65,500 is a tremendous amount of money even if we only had to raise it once, but to start raising it every year is too much.
“The library is so good for the community and all we are asking is that we have one paid member of staff. How can you run a library without librarians? It is impossible, and even that one person would make a tremendous difference.
“I have sent my letter in already, and I do hope it gets support. You can’t do without libraries, you really can’t, and there are so many people who use them.”
At county level Coun Margaret-Ann de Courcey-Bayley (Lib Dem) expressed concern at the library’s future when the plans were announced last year.
She has reaffirmed her belief in the importance of Starbeck Library this week.
She said, however, that the figure of £65,500 is unlikely to be what the community would have to raise.
“We are still trying to research what the overhead costs are going to be and I have set up a meeting with an NYCC officer and the members of the volunteer group at the library and we hope we will get some straight answers,” she said.
“But it will be a question of volunteers raising the funds and that is a nightmare because the more cut backs the more volunteers are being asked to do and the heavier the burden.
“It would obviously help if Starbeck was a hybrid library and in a sense we have been since the first changes were introduced a couple of years ago. If we could be the same as Knaresborough that would obviously be a step in the right direction, because the library is highly valued.”
The cuts to the libraries budget at NYCC are part of an overall regime of spending efficiencies the council needs to make by 2020.
Since 2011, the council has made plans for total cuts in its spending of £167m - a reduction in the council’s spending power of approximately 34 per cent.
The libraries budget has been cut by £2m, with nine libraries already community managed, but NYCC announced in November 2014 that an additional £1.6m needs to be saved.
Next week the consultation on the plans intended to find this saving will end and a report will go before the council in the spring and a decision will be made in summer.
According to the proposals, the local authority means to retain a ‘core’ library in each district.
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.
Libraries at Starbeck, Boroughbridge, Pateley Bridge, Sherburn, and Tadcaster would be classed as ‘community managed’, receiving arm’s length support from core libraries but run solely by volunteers. These libraries will depend on communities and potential partners, and NYCC intends to provide unspecified assistance, including some financial help.
The consultation runs until February 8, 2015 and a report will be given to councillors in June 2015.
The public can complete an online survey at www.northyorks.gov.uk/libraryconsultation
NYCC executive member for library services Coun Chris Metcalfe (Con) said he did not recognise the figure of £65,500 and could not comment on that.
However, he added: “It seems an outrageously high sum of money and I don’t think we would expect any of our libraries to be raising that sort of money. We have said to all these libraries that the basic running costs other than staff we would be picking up, so I am in a quandary.”
As the public consultation on libraries draws to a close on February 8, 2015, Coun Metcalfe said nothing has been analysed yet and a final decision will not be taken until the summer.
Only then will the public know whether the proposals set out in November 2014 will be going forward, meaning the potential closure of libraries across the county if volunteer support cannot be found, or whether alternative cost-saving measures are in place. He said: “The only reassurance I can give is that this is a genuine consultation. There is not a piece of paper in a drawer at County Hall somewhere that says irrespective of the consultation this is what we are going to do. Last time we moved from our original proposals to what people were saying in the consultation, and this too is a genuine attempt to listen. But that doesn’t change the position of NYCC that it needs to find substantial savings in the next four years and libraries cannot be excluded from that.
“No service is what might be called sacred, but we are trying to protect services and find another way to provide them. The issue will still regretably come down to money, but it isn’t a closed book at the moment in time.”