LIBRARY: Change is the best option

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Peter Scaife raises concerns about changes to our library services, (Morpeth Herald, August 11).

Local authority libraries across the country are facing a desperate struggle to survive. This is largely the result of some of the most savage budget cuts in living memory, inflicted by a Government that seems hell-bent on dismantling public services, which have left some authorities with impossible decisions.

Hundreds of libraries have closed, while hundreds more have survived by the skin of their teeth and by the goodwill of volunteers who understand the severity of the challenge that local authorities face.

Here in Northumberland, we are writing a story that is somewhat different.

Despite facing a £58million budget cut over the next four years, Northumberland County Council has so far resisted the need to close a single library.

We have achieved this in part by relocating and co-locating key services, including libraries, as part of our major review of council buildings and assets, and thereby secured the future of some of our most valued services.

This strategy aims to generate more than £33million in capital income, contribute to the economic growth and regeneration of our towns, and save £3.4million every year in running costs by selling off surplus buildings and ensuring our remaining properties are fit for purpose.

The scaling down of our estate is vital to protect frontline services and make them more efficient, easier to access, and more cost-effective. It also allows us to dispose of ageing buildings, which are an enormous drain on our resources.

Mr Scaife talks about the loss of Morpeth Library, but I wonder if he appreciates what a terrible condition the old library was in after the flood in 2008, and how it needed a massive investment from the county council to make it fit for purpose. Throwing good money after bad is not something we are prepared to do in these times of austerity, and I can’t imagine taxpayers would look too kindly on it either.

We appreciate that the changes to our libraries will not be universally popular, and we realise we still have some work to do to ensure that libraries are well established in their new surroundings.

But given the choice of an outright closure of your local library, or a relocation to a more modern, fit for purpose, multi-purpose facility, where you can access a wide a range of council services under one roof, which would you prefer?

Speak to the hundreds of families who are now enjoying the new facilities at Ashington Leisure Centre, or to some of the residents enjoying refurbished facilities at Berwick, and you’ll hear a very different story.

Library services are still here. Yes, they are being delivered in a different way, but we have refused to accept that closures are the only option and we have not gone down the route of mass closures as other local authorities have.

We are confident that with a little patience, and perhaps a little bit of compromise, we can continue to deliver services that the whole community will enjoy and take pride in for many years to come.

Coun Val Tyler

Cabinet Member for Arts, Leisure and Culture