Calderdale Council is investing £2 million in libraries despite a background of budget cuts.
At a time when more than 500 libraries have closed across the country since 2010, the council was making investment, said a Cabinet member.
But although efforts are being made to keep two local services, if not in the buildings they have been housed in, users may have to switch to the nearest alternatives.
Innovation will see several libraries in parts of the borough be incorporated as key parts of community hubs.
Cabinet member for Public Services and Communities, Coun Susan Press (Lab, Todmorden) told colleagues investment showed commitment to libraries in difficult financial times, with the council having to cut £114 million from its budget since 2010 because of austerity.
“Against that background we have a record to be absolutely proud of,” she said.
“We are doing everything we can to keep our community libraries going, investing as much money as we can in our libraries, to keep our libraries going and improve our offer.”
The council is investing £1.75 million at Elland Library, which would also turn the building into a community hub housing other services, and around £250,000 to complete vital repairs at Todmorden Library.
Construction is also set to start later this year at a former shops site at Mixenden Road, Mixenden, with a library joining a pharmacy, GP surgery and shops in a new complex there.
Restructuring staffing without compulsory redundancies and a temporary reduction to the council’s Book Fund will deliver savings the Library service needs to make as previously agreed in the council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy, said Coun Press.
Cabinet agreed work should continue identifying where some services could be relocated and delivered in “more innovative” ways within communities to maintain a local service and improve access, Mytholmroyd and Beechwood, Halifax, being examples, with a move planned into the newly renovated rail station building for the former and a different location proposed for the latter.
But the outlook is doubtful for Bailiff Bridge and Walsden libraries, prompting some heated exchanges from other councillors invited to speak.
Bailiff Bridge has been closed since February as it is in an unsafe condition and the Walsden building is no longer fit for purpose, said Coun Press.
Options will continue to be explored between council officers and community groups to find alternative venues from which a service could run but these can not continue indefinitely, she said.
Local campaigners still hope solutions can be found.
Bailiff Bridge community stalwart Malcolm Silkstone said this week he would have liked to have seen some money invested into the library in the past but that did not happen and other options had been explored but as yet no alternative had been found. “At the moment it is a very delicate subject,” he said.
And Walsden ward Todmorden Town Councillor Matt Doyle urges residents to demand the library service be retained and improved for the community as a whole.
“It is vital and a much needed service. We need to improve its availability and build in more services where it adds real value as it has always done,” he said.
Coun George Robinson (Con, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) told Cabinet he reacted with “horror” when he saw Bailiff Bridge was down for closure, asked whether other libraries were being improved to its detriment and claimed there had been a commitment not to close libraries.
Coun Press responded that the council aimed to maintain services even if it was in an alternative building, if that were possible. “That is what we said all along,” she said, and despite
Cabinet agreeing the Bailiff Bridge building should close, efforts would still be made to find an alternative venue.
“The conversation isn’t over, we just haven’t been able to find a long term resolution to it yet – that’s not to say it will happen or it won’t happen,” she said.
Coun Steven Leigh (Con, Ryburn) took up Coun Robinson’s point but Coun Press said: “We never, ever, said that no library would be demolished – we said we’d do the best we could to maintain services and we have absolutely done that, we have done everything we can and that’s what we will continue to do.”
The council ideally did not want to close buildings but the council did not have enough money to maintain all the buildings it owned. Hard choices had to be made after the Government had imposed nine years of austerity, said Coun Press.
The council’s Deputy Leader, Coun Jane Scullion (Lab, Luddenden Foot), added 70 per cent of the council’s budget went on adults’ and children’s social services, most of which were statutory duties, leaving the remaining 30 per cent which was available for the rest of the council’s services having to bear the brunt of savings the council had to find.
As it stands, Bailiff Bridge service users use either Brighouse or Hipperholme libraries, which are less than two miles away, and Walsden users will be asked to use Todmorden which is a similar distance away.
A “home library” service might also be made available.