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Pledge on Libraries' future

PUBLISHED: 13:57 03 August 2010 | UPDATED: 11:55 16 September 2010

THE head of Norfolk's library service has said that branches in the county are safe, as reports emerge that some in neighbouring Suffolk may face an uncertain future.

THE head of Norfolk's library service has said that branches in the county are safe, as reports emerge that some in neighbouring Suffolk may face an uncertain future.

Derrick Murphy, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for cultural services, said it would be an “extreme last resort” for any of the nearly 50 libraries in the county to close.

He was speaking after it emerged that rural communities in Suffolk were being asked to take over their local branches.

While Suffolk County Council officials have denied there will be widespread closures, they concede they will be looking at the “viability” of branches, especially if no one comes forward to take them over.

Suffolk is keen that local community groups or parish councils should take over the running of library buildings.

However, Mr Murphy said Norfolk's policy on libraries was different and added that, without the necessary skills and training, volunteers from the local community could not run libraries on their own.

He said: “Our policy is quite clear: we are acutely aware that libraries are the centre of communities and, if you start closing them down, you destroy that community.

“We have a clear directive to sustain the libraries, particularly in rural areas, as much as we can.

“We have a history of efficiency savings at the county council, and the aim is to make savings from the back office rather than the front office.

“Only in the extreme last resort would we consider doing what they are talking of in Suffolk.”

Mr Murphy acknowledged that all local authorities were waiting

for the new comprehensive spending review announcement from the government in October.

But he added: “We have planned for this for a while. We knew that whoever won the general election there would be less money for local government; but the key thing is that one of our objectives is to sustain vibrant local communities, and having a library is part of that.”

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said there was no suggestion that, if a community group did not take on the responsibility for running a library, it would automatically be closed.

The spokesman added: “Clearly, consideration needs to be given to the viability of a library, but this is not about dismantling the library service and replacing all staff with volunteers.”

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