Groups seek to take on Sheffield libraries

Nick Clegg and Coun David Baker at Stannington Library
Nick Clegg and Coun David Baker at Stannington Library
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Residents in at least five Sheffield communities have been in discussions with council officials about taking over threatened library branches.

Coun Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield Council cabinet member for communities, said he has spoken to groups in Broomhill, Newfield, Totley and Woodhouse - and council officers have spoken to Stannington residents.

Coun Iqbal pledged to work with residents to put together proposals to retain branches through volunteers.

Progress on getting community groups to run branches comes as Sheffield Council rejected a motion by opposition Liberal Democrat councillors opposing the ‘disastrous’ threat to libraries.

The motion, which followed a petition of more than 10,000 signatures and was presented by Stannington Lib Dem Coun David Baker, was rejected at yesterday’s full council meeting.

Coun Iqbal said: “Communities are saying to us they want to work to find a solution and that’s what we are all about.

“The council has spoken to five groups so far - me personally to four of them - to find out about their proposals and see how we could help.”

Sheffield Council is to close 15 of 27 community libraries this financial year after being hit by continued funding cuts.

Library closures would save £1.6 million a year, the council said.

But the motion by Coun Baker said: “In the last few weeks, I’ve been contacted by dozens of individuals desperate to see their local library saved.

“They know that Labour’s plan is being driven more by political spite than by the real need to make savings.”

Coun Baker said funding to keep branches open could have come from money ‘wasted’ on pet projects such as Park Hill flats - where the council is paying more than £2 million towards security costs.

But Coun Iqbal said: “We want to take the politics out of the libraries issue.

“We want community groups to develop their own business plans and we could support them for the first 15 to 24 months before they can be run independently.”

Reprieved libraries could even borrow staff from council-run branches in exchange for volunteers providing cover, he said.

The next phase of the debate on libraries will be at a council scrutiny board meeting, likely to be next Wednesday - followed by a ‘full consultation’.