Sheffield Council ‘ludicrous’ funding delay leaves libraries anxious about future – and some may close

Sheffield Council is making an urgent decision to fund libraries after it left their future hanging in the balance for months but some may still close.

Tuesday, 5th July 2022, 9:13 am
Updated Tuesday, 5th July 2022, 2:47 pm

The council is set to approve £209,000 of funding to help keep libraries going until a citywide review of the service but it admitted this may not be enough to prevent closures.

Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, spokesperson for the strategy and resources committee which is making the decision, said the report was originally meant to go to the council’s former cabinet in October 2021.

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Councillor Richard Williams outside Stanington Library in Sheffield

He said: “For some crazy reason, I don’t know who is at fault here, this has been delayed.

“As a result this has become an urgent matter. The new financial year started and this has not been authorised. It’s a ludicrous situation. This should never have been urgent.

“It’s created a lot of uncertainty and a lot of anxiety among some library volunteers who wondered if the council was still committed to them.”

Not enough

Sheffield Council's data on library income before and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Data provided by the council showed that Covid-19 left libraries with just a fraction of the income they had before the pandemic, leaving most of them entirely dependent on the council grant, and now they are struggling with the rocketing cost of utilities as well.

The grant amount was set in 2013/14, with the aim of helping libraries until they become financially sustainable, but it was cut by 30 percent and officers admitted in a report that this may no longer be sufficient.

Councillor Richard Williams, chair of the communities, parks and leisure committee, said: “These libraries are a great part of our communities in Sheffield and it’s crucial that the council does everything it can to keep them going. This funding for the next year is a good start but we need to go further to keep the libraries thriving and their buildings in working order.

“The libraries, like us all, are being affected by rises in the costs of heating and electricity, we must keep supporting them through this. We also need to encourage more volunteers to come forward to help out at the local libraries so they can be kept open.”

In the report on the situation, officers stressed the council continued to face significant financial challenges which is forcing them to make such difficult decisions.

Coun Mohammed said it was “on the verge of going bankrupt” and may need to ask more libraries to become volunteer-run in the future.

Councillors are due to approve the funding in a meeting on Tuesday, July 5.