Threat to city's libraries as 'lifeline' funding set to be pulled

THREAT: St John's library in Worcester <i>(Image: Newsquest)</i>
THREAT: St John's library in Worcester (Image: Newsquest)

THE future of some of the city’s libraries could be thrown into doubt as part of a plan to cut ‘lifeline’ funding.

Worcester City Council pledged to supply £157,000 to Worcestershire County Council every year as part of a deal to keep services running at Warndon and St John’s libraries in 2019.

But now city council bosses are discussing pulling the plug on the agreement and leaving the county to fund the service.

The policy and resources committee will meet for talks on the city council’s budget in the Guildhall on Tuesday (February 7) which includes a scheme to save money by withdrawing the funding – which has now increased to £178,000 a year because of inflation.

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City council chiefs have now seen the predicted year-end gap in its budget spiral to more than a million pounds in three months, which it seems can only be filled by dipping into the authority’s reserves.

The equally crash-strapped Worcestershire County Council, which is also looking to make cuts, can of course decide to take over the reins but unlikely given it was happy to see the city council shoulder the funding responsibility in 2019 as part of its own cost-saving measures.

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Both councils say they are not commenting on what the pulling of the funding would mean for St John’s and Warndon libraries until councillors in Worcester have discussed the plan next week.

Cllr Marcus Hart, cabinet member for communities at the county council, said he would be “considering the next steps” once a decision had been made.

St John’s city and county councillor Richard Udall said he would now be expecting the county council to foot the bill and services would not be cut.

“I would fully expect and hope that the county council would step in and make any expenditure which is required,” he said.

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“I will fight tooth and nail for every penny that that library needs to have for it to stay open.

“St John’s library is more than a library, it is a community centre. It’s where the community comes to gather and it is essential.

“Without it, the area would lose a lot of its identity so whatever happens that library will stay funded no matter what and I will fight with every fibre of my being to make sure funding continues without any cuts.”

A long review of the county’s libraries was held more than four-and-a-half-years ago with services, staff and opening hours all under the microscope as part of a plan to cut more than £800,000 from the budget.

The city’s Warndon and St John’s libraries were ‘saved’ from cuts when the city council agreed to put aside £250,000 a year to fund 'closer collaboration' work with county colleagues.

From that fund, the city council promised a ‘lifeline’ £157,000 a year to keep the two libraries running and to protect its services from the chop.

The county council had pondered over cutting opening hours and turning the libraries into self-service, after the city libraries ranked lowly during the council’s own swoop of the county’s facilities, in a bid to save cash.