Library funding

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I am writing in response to Matthew Smith’s request (letter, May 25) that I write about libraries and city centre development, but I reject his suggestion that we should give up on the latter.

I was cabinet assistant to Councillor Iqbal when the new library arrangements were developed. The unprecedented size of the cut in government funding meant that we had to make a major cut to library expenditure while keeping open as many libraries as possible and making sure, in particular, that the most deprived areas and vulnerable people continued to be served.

We undertook extensive consultation and I am glad to say that all 27 libraries remain open thanks to the arrangements we put in place and the great efforts of volunteers throughout the city.

One of the main criteria in deciding which libraries remained fully staffed was multiple deprivation - we decided against charging for computer use because of the importance of digital inclusion and we kept the home library service going.

Like Matthew, I would like to see more library staff and look forward to the time when local government finances are such that we can employ more people. However, it will be important not to lose the benefits of volunteer involvement in libraries; the commitment, initiative and local knowledge.

Faced with the size of the cuts it would have been easy, but shortsighted, to have neglected the long-term development of the city. The continued improvement of the city centre is an essential part of this.

The public realm with the walk up from Sheffield station, Tudor Square, the Winter Garden and the Peace Gardens is splendid, and the theatres and galleries provide excellent cultural attractions.

However, as many residents point out, there is a lack of quality shops, and Sheffield has fewer city centre businesses than other comparable cities.

Both are important for the long-term success of the city. It is for this reason that the council is continuing to pursue the development of the Moor and the retail quarter and is arguing for a city centre location for the HS2 station.

This is important for residents and visitors, for jobs and for inward investment, and for Sheffield’s reputation. It cannot be achieved without some investment by the council.

And to return to libraries, the importance in the future of business rates for local government finance, means that the economic success of the city centre will be vital for providing the funding for libraries throughout the city.

Geoff Smith

Mona Road, Sheffield S10