Library closures on hold - but no Plan B

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The consultation on proposals to close 16 libraries in Fife will be extended – with a final decision being delayed until December.

In June this year, councillors agreed that proposals put forward by Fife Cultural Trust, which runs the Kingdom’s library network on behalf of Fife Council, should go out for consultation.

But it was due to be a short process – and that led to strong criticism from community groups who complained they had been given little time to study the proposals or put forward alternative suggestions.

Council officers, senior councillors and the cultural trust board have now acknowledged a longer process would be “preferable”.

So next week, the council’s executive committee will approve a 12-week consultation process, which will run until November 6, before a final report is considered at its meeting on December 8.

Councillor Susan Leslie, whose scrutiny committee questioned the cultural trust on its proposals this week, welcomed the extended consultation, but warned: “There is still a big job to be done by the council and the cultural trust to reinstill confidence in the process.”

She added: “There’s no denying that the way people access library services is changing but this is the first full scale review of library service across Fife. We need to be certain that the suggested changes are based on robust criteria and that the trust continues to deliver an excellent library service that reflects customer demands and expectations.”

Councillor Bill Brown, whose ward includes Glenwood in Glenrothes, one of the areas earmarked to lose its library, had been highly critical of the original consultation process.

He claimed many people believed the council and cultural trust were simply trying to push through the proposals by holding a short consultation during the summer period.

“A lot of the public have felt the consultation doesn’t matter because the decisions have already been taken,” he said.

“People in Glenrothes are really concerned. It looks like we are going to lose four libraries in our area, but the feeling is there’s no point in people turning up to talk about it.”

Robin Presswood, the council’s head of economy, planning and employability, insisted no decision had been taken, and encouraged everyone, including community councils, to share their views and comments.

“We’re very keen for community councils to consider the proposals and put forward any alternative suggestions,” he said.

Heather Stuart, cultural trust chief executive, promised the board would look at the responses received during the consultation and consider adjusting its proposals.

Councillor Brian Goodall, SNP group leader, welcomed the longer consultation process.

He said: “The SNP group had been looking for an extension. The summer is not a good time to hold a consultation.

“We had been looking for it to be extended until the end of the year, but what’s been put on the table is November, so we’re happy to go along with that.

“I’d encourage everyone to have their say and let the council and the cultural trust know how much they value their library services.”

The consultation will include mail drops and emails being sent to library users, information leaflets, an online questionnaire and drop-in sessions at a number of libraries.

Savings must be found

Fife Cultural Trust has vowed to listen to views put forward during the consultation – and is willing to take on board new ideas and suggestions.

But chief executive Heather Stuart stressed that if the proposals, including the closure of libraries, don’t go ahead in some form, savings will still have to be found.

“These are our proposals,” she said. “We are sitting with a £813,000 hole in our budget, having already delivered £1 million of savings. Without a solution, at some point we could become insolvent.

“I’m not suggesting that would happen. Councillors will decided whether to accept, reject or amend our proposals. If they don’t go ahead we would be looking to the council to say what we should do instead.”

The savings in the trust’s proposals come from a reduction in staff costs, with the 16 library closures resulting in 25 job losses, although there would be no compulsory redundancies.

Council officers have suggested that outright rejection of the trust proposals might lead to alternative cuts to activities and classes for both adults and children, including the scrapping of the popular bookbug sessions – and even no new books being purchased.

Another unlikely alternative would be for the council to look for savings from other services – education, social work, transportation – but cuts in these areas would also be extremely unpopular.

Councillor William Campbell, a member of the scrutiny committee said: “If we do decide to reject these proposals, we have got to have alternatives.

‘‘We can’t just say we are not doing that.”

Cultural trust library proposals

The proposals for the future of Fife’s library network include the closure of 16 libraries.

Glenwood, Thornton, Markinch, Pitteuchar in the Glenrothes area, and Kinghorn were all earmarked for closure in the current financial year, but Fife Council has provided funding from its reserves to support these libraries until the consultation process has been completed and a final decision has been made on the future model.

It’s proposed Crail, Lundin Links, Pittenweem, Colinsburgh, Falkland, Freuchie, East Wemyss, Bowhill and Crossgates libraries will close in 2016/17, and Townhill and Abbeyview (Dunfermline) in 2017/18.

Sinclairtown Library in Kirkcaldy is due to close in March 2016, with the service relocating to the new Kirkcaldy East Campus in August 2016, and Anstruther library is scheduled to close in June 2017, with services moving to the new Waid Academy Campus in August 2017.

The mobile library service will provide cover in areas where static libraries are removed, and there is also a ‘housebound service’ available.

PCs will be relocated from libraries which are closed to either suitable facilities in the locality, or the nearest available library.

Under the proposed ‘hub and spoke’ model, hub libraries – generally situated in the bigger towns such as Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes, Dunfermline, Leven, Methil, St Andrews and Cupar – will be open for 40 hours or more each week. Spoke libraries – including Burntisland, Anstruther, Cadham (Glenrothes) and Templehall (Kirkcaldy) – will open between 20 and 40 hours each week. And satellite libraries – such as Kennoway, Buckhaven, Tayport, Newport, Newburgh, Elie, Ladybank and Leslie – will open up to 20 hours each week.

Access to PCs crucial

The trust has promised to look at providing access to its computer network in areas where it is proposing to close libraries.

The use of PCs is one area of growth in Fife’s libraries – and has become increasingly important to people who are looking for work or applying for benefits.

Councillor Peter Lockhart, speaking at this week’s scrutiny meeting, expressed concern for people on job seekers allowance.

He said “The DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) insists people look for jobs every day. To do that they have to go online, and if they don’t they get sanctioned.

“Just to apply for benefits you have to go online.”

Cllr Lockhart said the cost of travelling to a library in another town could be prohibitive for someone who was out of work.

Heather Stuart, chief executive, acknowledged access to PCs had been important to people impacted by Government’s welfare reforms. She said the trust would look at re-siting PCs in alternative locations within areas where libraries were closed.