Suffolk libraries to be saved from closure

All of Suffolk's libraries are safe from closure, it has been revealed.

A package of proposals to set up a new structure to run the county's 44 libraries is set to be approved by Suffolk County Council's cabinet – though there could be job losses and staff transfers.

But none of the libraries will close and the county hopes most will see opening hours remain the same or even increase.

Among the 29 libraries that had been under threat of closure under divestment plans were Bungay, Kessingland, Oulton Broad, Southwold, Eye, Stradbroke, Brandon and Lakenheath.

However, the future of the county's mobile libraries is less clear. The number of visits they make to rural communities could be cut in an attempt to reduce costs.

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Judy Terry, cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, said the county would be looking at three options to run the library service in future:

-An in-house business unit similar to the Schools Library Service.

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- An external, but wholly council-owned, company.

- An independent company managed by the county through contractual arrangements.

Mrs Terry said the second and third options would allow communities to have a significant say in how their libraries were run.

She insisted that it had always been her intention to avoid library closures if possible, but when a distinction was made between 15 'county libraries' and 29 'community libraries' earlier this year, it was widely seen that the smaller ones were under threat.

Communities felt that they were being warned that if they did not step in to run their library it would be likely to close.

Mrs Terry said the council had been delighted at the response to its consultation earlier in the year, and had taken on board the comments made. 'It was clear how much people value their libraries. We were pleased to get a strong response.'

She said a number of things had become clear, but one point stood out: 'Most important of all was not closing any of Suffolk's libraries.

'We feel the proposals being put forward strike the right balance between protecting much-loved council services while finding necessary and unavoidable financial savings.'

Mrs Terry said the county needed to find savings of 30pc in its library budget. It had already found 10pc savings in the current year so another 20pc needed to be found in the next two years.

She said: 'By moving to a different structure we should be able to achieve those savings by cutting bureaucracy.'

The cabinet is expected to agree that a small number of libraries – probably about six – will be part of a pilot scheme with local people involved in the operation.

The library service has about 350 employees – equating to 163 full-time equivalents – and Mrs Terry hoped any job losses could be kept to a minimum.

She added: 'We would hope that any losses could be through non-replacement as far as possible rather than people losing jobs.'

The mobile library service is looking to save about �250,000 from its �590,000 budget. This could mean some communities were visited monthly rather than their current fortnightly service, but no decision had yet been made.

Suffolk's cabinet is due to meet on July 19 when the proposals will be debated.

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