Calderdale Council is currently consulting on ways in which £150,000 can be saved from it’s libraries budget, but there is a fundamental flaw in the intended approach to doing so.
The public are being asked to first comment on six options for short term savings. Three relate to mobile library services, from ceasing them all together to reducing them to all but the most rural areas, and three relate to libraries themselves, from closing some to reducing opening hours at others.
The public are then being asked to comment on whether the Council ‘should’ consider other ways of providing library services that may offer opportunities for savings in the medium to longer term. These opportunities include sharing services across council boundaries, co-locating services, and seeking new providers from either the private or voluntary sectors.
This approach betrays a narrow and self-serving attitude on the part of the Council, which is clearly prepared to compromise the services provided to the public before examining the way in which it operates.
Of course the Council should be considering other ways of providing library services in the same way that it should be constantly looking at ways in which to improve all services. It is astounding that the Council feels the need to consult about the principle of a process that should have begun as soon as the scale of budget reductions required became apparent.
It will be of little use to the elderly person in a rural area if £150,000 is saved in two years time because it is almost unimaginable that the mobile library service that is removed now will be reinstated later.
The Council must then consider, indeed has a duty to consider, all possible ways of achieving reductions to budgets before reductions to services are contemplated.
In the context of the Council’s entire budget £150,000 is a relatively small amount and, where there is a will, a way could be found to make short term savings and protect the libraries budget until this review of future provision has been undertaken. The Taxpayers Alliance revealed this week that the Council employs a Regional Reputation Manager within a Marketing & Communications Team that will cost £216,800 next year. Perhaps removing non-jobs like this would be an easy way to start.