Smaller Northants libraries could close as council makes budget U-turn

The council has budgeted for a 40.9 million sale of One Angel Square, though KPMG says this is not achievable.
The council has budgeted for a 40.9 million sale of One Angel Square, though KPMG says this is not achievable.

Libraries in Middleton Cheney and Woodford Halse may now close and offered to the community as the cash-strapped council was forced to reconsider its budget.

Northamptonshire County Council originally planned to financially support smaller libraries for two years to be handed over to independent groups.

But after auditors advised the local authority to revise its budget for 2018/19 due to a lack of funds, cabinet will consider closing 21 smaller libraries with no financial backing at a meeting today (Tuesday, February 27).

Also included in the new budget are recommendations to completely cut bus subsidies, reducing the Trading Standards and highways maintenance budgets, increasing on-street parking controls, decreasing councillors’ allowances and a pay freeze for staff.

The spending controls currently in place under the Section 114 notice are also recommended to be continued into the new financial year, while the use of capital receipts during 2018/19 has been reduced from £40.9m to £31m.

There is also the possibility that further in-year savings will be required during 2018/19 if the current proposals are not sufficient to deliver financial sustainability.

Cabinet member for finance Cllr Robin Brown said: “Northamptonshire is at the leading edge of a financial challenge the severity of which local government has never seen before.

“It is a challenge all top tier authorities will face, but Northamptonshire has reached crisis point now.

“Faced with unprecedented demand for local services, above-average population growth and reducing funding from central government, we are now in a position where we must focus on safeguarding vulnerable people and statutory services.

“We have tried to minimise the impact on the most vulnerable in our communities, the cost of which is largely invisible to the wider population, and therefore it is regrettable but inevitable that these proposals will have an impact on the population as a whole.

“These revised budget recommendations have been brought forward in light of the advisory notice issued by KPMG last week and include service reductions we had hoped to avoid but now regrettably have to bring forward in order to set a realistic and deliverable budget by March 1.

The new recommendation would see the county’s eight large and seven medium libraries retained, and the 21 smaller libraries closed as council-run libraries.

Community groups which expressed an interest in taking on their local library will be offered this option, ran independently of the statutory Northamptonshire Libraries service.

The council would develop an independent library service contract which these independent libraries could buy into, such as those libraries operated in hospitals.

Cabinet member for public health and wellbeing Cllr Sylvia Hughes said: “It is hugely regrettable that we have to consider this revised proposal for the future of the library service in Northamptonshire.

“We heard loud and clear what residents across the county told us during the 12-week consultation, but given the advisory notice issued by our auditors KPMG last week, we have little choice but to reconsider our preferred option.

“KPMG quite clearly told us that they considered our proposed budget for 2018/19 was not achievable as they felt it relied too heavily on the use of capital receipts, and so we have to revisit some of our previous proposals.

“This revised recommendation gives community groups the option to take on the contract for their local library, but given the unprecedented financial challenge we are facing due to reducing funding from central government and unparalleled demand for local services, this will now be outside of the statutory library service.”

The new budget will be discussed at an extraordinary cabinet meeting today, followed by a full council meeting tomorrow (Wednesday).