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Half of Norfolk's libraries could face closure under worst case scenario for county council cuts

PUBLISHED: 12:29 15 October 2015 | UPDATED: 07:42 16 October 2015

Libraries across Norfolk could be shut if radical cuts go through. Picture: James Bass

Libraries across Norfolk could be shut if radical cuts go through. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012

More than half of Norfolk's libraries could face closure "as a last resort" if deep and radical cuts to help plug County Hall's multi-million pound funding gap go ahead.

With Norfolk County Council needing to save £111m over the next three years, each department has been asked to identify ways to be spending 25pc less by 2018/19,

And the latest list of possible cuts and savings - for the communities and environmental services department - puts forward the possibility of saving £14.74m through 26 proposals.

One of the proposals likely to prove most controversial is to save £1.6m by only providing libraries at only about 20 of Norfolk’s current 47 sites.

If that were to go ahead, it would mean libraries would have to be shut or delivered in other ways - such as being transferred to communities to operate.

Tom McCabe, executive director of communities and environmental services at Norfolk County Council, said: “We have to look at it in case we do need to deliver 25pc. We would have to look at the balance between buildings, books and staff.

“If we did have to save 25pc that would see 27 of the sites closed, based on the numbers formula. But some councils have moved to private trusts and community groups running libraries.

“I think there’s stuff like that which could happen, but I am also aware that when it comes to shutting libraries that generally leads to legal challenges and protests, so I suspect we would only go there as a last resort.”

The proposals also shed further light on controversial proposals to redesign Norfolk’s Fire and Rescue Service. That could range from saving £1.2m by slashing operation support and training to the worst case 25pc cut scenario which would see fire stations closed, hundreds of firefighter jobs axed and fewer fire engines.

The Eastern Daily Press has been running its Save Our Stations campaign since initial details of the possibility of almost a dozen stations came to light last month.

Seven of the county’s museums would be run with just a basic service to save £652,000 - with Norwich Castle Museum, Gressenhall and Great Yarmouth’s Tide and Tide Museum protected.

Four part-time registration offices at Downham Market, Fakenham, Watton and Swaffham would be closed, while the staff at Norwich’s office in Churchman House would be moved to the Archive Centre at County Hall.

Hundreds of jobs in the department, which, including Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, employs about 6,500 people, would be at risk.

Council officers acknowledge that some services would see staff reductions of up to 40pc and the scale of the change would mean voluntary and/or compulsory redundancies would follow.

However, council officers have been quick to stress that it is unlikely all the possible cuts and savings will come to pass. Each department was asked to consider options for spending 25pc less in three years. That would save £169m, when the council’s funding gap is £111m.

The thinking behind that was for a ‘menu’ of possible options to be drawn up, so councillors can decide which cuts would be acceptable and which they would seek to rule out.

Mr McCabe said: “There are some of these I would not expect members to want to push to the next stage, but that is a decision for them.”

The council’s communities committee will consider the latest possibilities at a meeting next Wednesday. As with all council departments, their views on the savings will be taken forward to the authority’s policy and resources committee, which, later this month, will decide what to put out for public consultation.

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