Library shake-up is next savings plan

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Wigan’s libraries are the latest service set to undergo major reform as part of the council’s ongoing savings drive.

More than half of the current library budget has been earmarked as part of cutbacks prompting the plans for a shake-up.

A public consultation will be launched before the end of this year with council bosses pledging to keep as much of the current service open as possible.

Proposals include moving libraries into existing council facilities and exploring options to transfer the running of some sites over to community groups.

Assistant director for customer services Lesley O’Halloran told the Evening Post closing libraries “would fly in the face of the Wigan Deal” but said making the savings would be a tough task.

She said: “When we looked at the sheer number of people visiting our libraries it’s clear they do an awful lot (for the community).

“But we need to do things differently (to make savings), we can’t keep things the same, and we think we have come up with innovative ways to keep the provision.”

The plans have been revealed in a report that will be discussed by the Confident Places Scrutiny committee this week before consideration by the ruling cabinet later in the month.

It reveals officers have been tasked with shaving £1.4m from the library budget.

“This equates to over half of the current library expenditure...providing an opportunity to transform the service in line with the principles of the Deal,” the report states.

It reads: “During 2015/16 there were almost 869,000 visits to library facilities across the borough and this is of particular significance as residents have chosen to access this service provision, as opposed to the authority or other partner making a call to action.

“If we compare this to the 110,000 visitors to Life Centres, we have a significant opportunity to interact with a considerable number of our residents.”

Ms O’Halloran said initial proposals will go out to public consultation by the end of the year with the savings target expected to be reached by 2017/18.

The report reads: “The consultation will be genuinely open and transparent, with customer comments and suggestions being fed into any future delivery models

Having already had its budget slashed by £100m, the council is faced with finding another £60m worth of savings by 2020.

The shake-up of the borough’s library provision, which currently stands at 15 sites across the borough, follows similar reforms to children’s services and adult social care.

Responsibility for Wigan’s libraries returned to the town hall in 2014 having been under the umbrella of Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust.

Proposals include “integrating customer service and library staff”, a re-design of the home delivery service and increased reliance on volunteers.

A previous review of the borough’s library service in 2011 saw the number of sites reduced from 18 and these fresh reforms come amid the threat of closures by neighbouring authorities.

Lancashire County Council, which is facing cutbacks of £262m by 2020, has placed 40 libraries at risk of closure, including facilities in Parbold and Up Holland.