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Question mark over Shropshire's libraries as future of only seven are secured

By Dominic Robertson | Bridgnorth | Politics | Published:

The future of the county’s seven main libraries is secure but Shropshire Council can not guarantee the prospects of 14 smaller ones, it has been revealed.

The new plan safeguards the future of Shrewsbury Library

The council’s cabinet was expected to approve its new library strategy at a meeting today. The plan safeguards the future of ‘tier one’ libraries at Shrewsbury, including at the Lantern, Oswestry, Market Drayton, Whitchurch, Ludlow, and Bridgnorth.

However, the proposal includes plans for smaller libraries to move towards a “cost neutral” position, where they would not require any council funding.

The plan aims for ‘tier two’ libraries at Cleobury Mortimer, Church Stretton, Bishop’s Castle, Ellesmere, Pontesbury, Albrighton, and Wem to become cost neutral by the end of 2022/23, and for ‘tier three’ libraries at Broseley, Shifnal, Highley, Craven Arms, Much Wenlock, Gobowen, and Bayston Hill, to be cost neutral by 2020/21.

Shifnal Library is in the final phase of the cost neutral plan
It is hoped Craven Arms Library will be cost neutral by 2022/23

The council says it is too far in advance to confirm what will happen if the libraries are unable to support themselves by the time they reach the date.

A spokesperson said: “It would be premature of Shropshire Council to comment on this outcome this far in advance, as we have time to support and work alongside local communities, to ensure the long term future of our libraries across the county.”

A paper outlining the proposals insists there are no plans to close the sites, which would be a “last resort” decision after public consultation.

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It states: “In setting out a hierarchy of library services provision it is important to emphasise that there are no proposals to close tier three community libraries – i.e. Broseley, Shifnal, Highley, Craven Arms, Much Wenlock, Gobowen, and Bayston Hill. The council will continue to work with a broad range of local partners to try to find sustainable solutions to the long-term management of all of its libraries. Within these arrangements, the council will continue to provide freely a full range of “back office” support to local organisations.” Where a local solution cannot be found the council may consider closure as a last resort following public consultation, the development of a needs assessment and ESIIA, and a cabinet decision.”

Under the plans 281 mobile library stops will be provided, down from 354 currently, and there will be a focus on digital library services, including 24-hour access to a range of lending and information resources.

A paper outlining the plan states: “100 per cent of Shropshire residents will be able to access static libraries within one of the tier one and two locations or a mobile library stop within a 20-minute drive time.”

The paper says the council understands that libraries are “highly valued” by communities,

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It states: “This strategy reflects our ambition and commitment to continue to unlock the huge potential that library services have to impact positively on individuals’ lives while at the same time delivering local priorities.

"Whilst acknowledging that this is a particularly challenging time for library services, it is also clear that they are highly valued by local communities and stakeholders alike.

"The next five years are crucial for the long-term sustainability and success of public library services in Shropshire.”

Future vision for libraries is revealed

A plan for the future of libraries envisions them being at "the core of their communities", council officials have said.

Shropshire Council's cabinet is expected to approve the new five-year strategy, which runs from 2018 to 2023, at its meeting this afternoon.

The report, which outlines the council's aspirations for its library services, states: "The Library Services Strategy for Shropshire sets out our vision for libraries in Shropshire to be at the core of their communities. We want to work in partnership with others to empower everyone to live healthy, resilient and fulfilling lives, and to provide library services that inspire people’s learning and enjoyment."

The authority says it will measure the success against "improved opportunities for literacy, reading and culture", "improved health and well-being of Shropshire communities, "communities that are resilient and inclusive", and "libraries that are more innovative and sustainable".

The council says there are no plans to close the libraries and that any decision would require a cabinet decision and public consultation.

The report states: "The strategy proposes to move to cost neutral provision for 14 tier two and tier three community libraries while recognising that in some cases this may require time limited investment and support.

"Specifically, the strategy aims to achieve cost neutral provision at all seven tier two facilities by the end of 2022/23 and at all seven tier three facilities by the end of 2020/21.

"This would save the council approximately £82,000 per annum by the end of 2020/21, increasing to approximately £274,000 per annum from the end of 2022/23."

Under the new plan the number of mobile stops will be reduced from 354 to 281.

The report says that the stops retained have been chosen because of the difficulties some people may have in accessing a library.

It states: "Proposals to reduce the number of mobile library stops are based on a thorough assessment of alternative provision and the potential impact to library users. In designing future stops, we have retained stops for borrowers who would be unable to travel to an alternative stop because of a lack of transport or mobility problems.

"We have also identified housebound readers who either will continue to receive a service via the mobile library or will receive a home library service from a nearby static branch.

"Volunteers will be recruited to choose books from the mobile library and to deliver to housebound readers in their village. Where possible, after school stops have also been retained."

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