Funding squeeze on region’s library services revealed
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press
The squeeze on library services across the region as councils face financial pressures has been revealed by analysis of government figures.
Although councils are legally required to provide a 'comprehensive and efficient' library service, there is no specific funding provision for libraries from central government.
That means the decision about how much funding to provide to libraries rests solely with the local authority.
Norfolk libraries experienced four years of spending cuts, according to financial data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Last month 40% cuts to the budget of Norfolk's mobile libraries were agreed that will see two fewer vehicles and some stops no longer called at. The proposals will save £200,000 at a time when the council is looking for ways to plug a £45.3m spending gap.
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A Norfolk County Council spokesperson said: 'We know the library service is much valued across the county. In addition to budget proposals that would safeguard the future of the mobile library service we have already extended the opening times of many of our libraries. 'In June this year the opening times of more than 30 libraries were increased to 69 hours per week thanks to new technology which gives customers, partners and community groups access to Norfolk County Council's library services even when the branch is unstaffed. Looking ahead a further six libraries will introduce the technology in the New Year.'
Meanwhile Suffolk libraries have had their funding slashed for the second year in a row, the analysis of government figures reveals. In 2017-18 Suffolk County Council cut libraries spending by £522,000, after the figures are adjusted for inflation.
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Cllr Paul West, cabinet member for Ipswich, Communities and Waste, said: 'We are proud to have been able to maintain all 44 libraries across Suffolk over recent years.
'Working alongside Suffolk Libraries, we have developed a community model for libraries across Suffolk. The model, which will run until 2022, is funded by a fixed budget set aside by Suffolk County Council.
'The community model ensures that the incredible variety and range of activities and services available continues to meet the needs of each individual library and the surrounding area.'
The Library Campaign, a national charity, said that libraries are 'essential front-line services'.
Campaign chair Laura Swaffield said: 'Libraries are being hollowed out so much that people have forgotten what a library should be.
'For the last 30 years, libraries have had more than their fair share of cuts, so making further cuts has a disproportionate effect.'