Final plea falls on deaf ears for Sheffield libraries

Second day of library protest outside Sheffield town hall.
Second day of library protest outside Sheffield town hall.
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It was ‘the day democracy failed’ - that was one dad’s verdict as Sheffield Council hammered the final nail into the coffin of hopes to keep the city’s 28 libraries publicly-run and staffed.

Following months of protests, petitions and heated debates, the cabinet approved proposals to axe 75 members of staff and relinquish control of 15 libraries.

A last-minute plea for a re-think at Tuesday night’s scrutiny committee meeting failed to impress councillors.

Instead plans to keep 12 facilities – Firth Park, Crystal Peaks, Hillsborough, Ecclesall, Parson Cross, Stocksbridge, Highfield, Chapeltown, Manor, Woodseats, Darnall and Central – under council control, operate five in partnerships with local volunteers and hand over the remaining 10 to be independently run will go ahead. Tinsley Library will remain council-run until its lease expires in 2016.

The council has agreed to review the impact of cuts to services - but not for another 12 months.

Matt Kik, who led the Save Totley Library campaign, said: “I was unfortunate enough to attend the scrutiny meeting. Democracy failed.

“The thing we’ve always said we need above anything else is help from professional staff for independent libraries.

“It seems to be the one thing they are totally against giving us. It looks like the only thing that will keep these libraries open now is a lot of work and dedication from the public.”

Opposition councillors from the Liberal Democrats had put forward a motion asking for the scrutiny committee to consider an alternative, to stretch resources evenly between all libraries in the city, making more use of volunteers. It was voted down.

At yesterday’s meeting at Sheffield Town Hall one irate campaigner stormed out of the council chamber, labelling leaders a ‘disgrace’.

Despite the public backlash, the council remained committed to its plan.

Earlier this month the council agreed to transfer £262,000 of funding from the Public Health Grant for 2013 to the next financial year to support the sustainability and viability of independent libraries and volunteering. This will be offered again in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017

Coun Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for communities, said: “We believe the model meets the need for a comprehensive service.”

Sheffield Council leader Coun Julie Dore said: “This is an extremely emotive and sensitive issue. People feel so emotional about it and we recognise that.

“We’ve had months of discussions in these chambers. As much as I would love to keep libraries, it is impossible to do so.”

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