‘Transforming services’ is key to saving them

Wigan Life Centre and library

Wigan Life Centre and library

Plans to maintain the borough’s 15 “beating heart” libraries amid budget cutbacks are set to be approved by council bosses this week.

Officers have been tasked with delivering £1.4m of savings but say closures will not be necessary.

Wigan Life Centre Library

Wigan Life Centre Library

However, job losses have not been ruled out with proposals to merge library and life centre staff in addition to a projected greater reliance on volunteers.

Outline plans for the reforms were first revealed last year against a backdrop of neighbouring authorities tabling closures in bids to save funds.

Officers remained bullish though that this would not be mirrored in Wigan borough with assistant director for customer services Lesley O’Halloran telling the Observer closing libraries “would fly in the face of the Wigan Deal”.

Instead, the council has said the savings target will be reached in four stages; integrating customer service and library staff, inviting community groups into existing library buildings to make “best use of space”, increase volunteer involvement and transferring the home delivery service “to a volunteer model”.

Bosses say these measures can deliver on their pledge to keep all current sites open. The reforms will be discussed by the town hall’s ruling cabinet members this week.

This follows on from the outline plans being subject to a public consultation that came to an end earlier this year. A report, set to be presented to the cabinet, states respondents were widely supportive of the aims of the reform blueprint.

Meanwhile, dozens of residents are said to have stepped forward to volunteer, in addition to the 101 residents who already do so.

Officers have previously said they were encouraging community groups to submit any bids to take over the running of any facilities with two of the borough’s 15 sites already community run.

The town hall will be “exploring opportunities for community delivery, ownership and asset transfer”, the report adds.

With the merging of teams of staff and back office changes expected, the town hall has not been able to rule out potential job losses.

A spokesman for the council told the Observer it is too early in the reform process to confirm any specific figures.

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

Having already had its budget slashed by around £115m, the council is faced with finding another £43m worth of savings by 2020.

Speaking at a previous cabinet meeting, Coun Terry Halliwell, cabinet member for service transformation, said: “I think the key headline here is that it is not our intention to close any libraries. If we consider what is happening in some of the areas around us, (with other authorities closing facilities) this is going to be welcomed.

“Being a bit smarter about the (library) footprint means we have some opportunities to transform the service.”