Groups considering bids to run Sheffield libraries

Coun Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield Council cabinet member for communities.
Coun Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield Council cabinet member for communities.
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COMMUNITY groups are poised to answer the call to save Sheffield libraries from closure - with several organisations announcing their interest in taking over branches.

But representatives of groups likely to make approaches have criticised the omission of financial information from a prospectus which has been published by Sheffield Council.

Grenville Wilkinson, pictured at  Walkley Library,

Grenville Wilkinson, pictured at Walkley Library,

Groups are considering bids to run libraries including Broomhill, Walkley, Upperthorpe and Darnall.

Sheffield Council says it may close up to 14 of 27 community libraries unless external organisations are interested in taking them over.

The authority says it has chosen not to reveal financial information, such as staffing and running costs, in the public document for ‘confidentiality reasons’.

But Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance, said the details would be available to interested parties at follow-up meetings once they have submitted an expression of interest.

Nick Clegg with residents and councillors at Stannington Library

Nick Clegg with residents and councillors at Stannington Library

Grenville Wilkinson, of Walkley Community Forum, said: “The running costs are the most important detail to know, and should be in the initial prospectus so groups can decide whether they are interested before making a formal submission.

“The contact between the council and community groups has been poor so far - we have written to Coun Mazher Iqbal, the council cabinet member in charge of community services, expressing an interest and received no reply.

“We also weren’t informed the prospectus had been published.”

Howard Fry, secretary of Broomhill Forum, added: “It would have been handy to know the running costs of each library to start with.

“Broomhill Forum members are interested and we are considering expressing an interest but we are thinking of consulting other community groups in the area to see if a larger bid could be made for several sites.”

Across the city Darnall Forum, which already operates the suburb’s post office, is considering a bid to take over the library.

Neil Bishop, manager at the forum, said: “We are very interested.

“Libraries and post offices would work well together. We have made an inquiry with council officers and mentioned it to our local councillors although nobody has come back to us yet.

“Whether we can take over the library depends on whether the council intends on helping us to pay some of the costs - it needs to be worth our while.”

Zest, at Upperthorpe, which operates the neighbourhood’s swimming pool and provides training courses for local residents, is understood to be interested in taking over Upperthorpe Library, although nobody from the organisation was available for comment yesterday.

Opposition Liberal Democrats agree the prospectus should have been published earlier.

A public questionnaire on the future of libraries was issued in September - and the council has been working up its budget since last April in anticipation of large cuts.

Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, Lib Dem leader who represents Broomhill, said: “They are not leaving much time for groups to come up with proposals to run libraries if they want to make savings over the next financial year.

“There also needs to be fuller information, with individual prospectuses for each library. If I was making a bid I wouldn’t have a clue about whether it would be viable until I have seen the financial details.”

Launching the prospectus Coun Iqbal, who represents Darnall, said: “We want to save our libraries for future generations. However, if there are no viable alternatives, given the budget available, this could mean the closure of libraries.

“We are inviting individuals, groups and organisations to engage with us to discuss their ideas and proposals for maintaining the viability of the city’s library services.

“This can range from volunteering to the running of whole services.”

Coun Lodge added: “We are inviting groups interested in making a bid to submit an expression of interest, and full discussions would then take place

“We would not want to make financial information public for confidentiality reasons.”