Community takeover of Sheffield libraries is to go ahead at the end of the month – despite the government calling for the process to be put on hold.
Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey has asked for a delay while he decides whether to order an inquiry over concerns the council is not fulfilling its legal duty.
Volunteers have been training to run 15 branches from September 29 after a council review to save libraries from closure.
But after a complaint from Broomhill Library Action Group, Mr Vaizey told the council he wants to remove doubt over whether the council is complying with its statutory responsibility to deliver ‘a comprehensive and efficient library service’.
He has asked council leader Julie Dore to confirm changes to the service will not take place until he decides whether to hold a local inquiry”.
But council leaders have decided to press ahead to avoid the possibility of libraries being closed while the decision is made.
Mr Vaizey intervened after the Broomhill group said the council’s assessment of community library needs was flawed and proposed changes were unlawful.
It says cutting the service by 60 per cent ‘cannot logically result in a service that is still comprehensive and efficient’.
Sheffield is already performing ‘below average’ for library services, and, it is argued, ‘25 per cent of the city will be left with no library’.
A BLAG spokesperson said it ‘has never found a satisfactory reason why Broomhill Library, which is the third busiest in the city for book issues, has been selected for closure’.
Coun Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for communities and public health, said:
“I am staggered by the fact that it has taken so long for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to respond to concerns raised by members of the community many months ago, and am astonished by their request to us to delay plans less than three weeks before responsibilities will be transferred to community groups.
“This is tantamount to telling us to close libraries in Sheffield.”
He added ‘continuing with our plans is the only realistic option available’.