Surrey library volunteer plans 'will not save money'

Elderly resident using a mobile library - generic
Image caption The council wants 10 libraries to be run by volunteers to avoid closure

Controversial cash-saving proposals for Surrey's library service may not save any money after all, the county council has admitted.

Opponents of the plans for 10 of its libraries to be run by volunteers are urging the council to abandon the move.

The authority said the switch would save them from closure under the council's public-spending cutbacks.

Liberal Democrats say if there are no savings from using volunteers, the libraries should remain fully staffed.

The Conservative-run council's original blueprint, outlined more than a year ago, was regarded as a way of keeping all 52 of the county's libraries open, while helping save up to £381,000 a year.

Plans 'unlawful'

Despite resistance from opposition councillors and action group Surrey Libraries Action Movement, the council agreed the plans in September last year.

However, they have been thrown into doubt by a court ruling that the proposals were unlawful because of inadequate provision in the plans for equalities training.

The council has vowed to press ahead with the proposals next month after taking into account the new training requirements.

But now the Cabinet Member for Community Services, Helyn Clack, has admitted there will not be any savings, either in the current financial year or in future years.

She said the £106,000 required for annual training and support for the volunteers would not cost any extra, as this would be met from "realignment of staff roles".

Lib Dem leader Hazel Watson said: "The Conservative administration's plan to press ahead with volunteer-run libraries is an insult to the many Surrey residents who have campaigned vigorously to keep their local libraries fully staffed by professional librarians.

'Not about savings'

"Now it has been proven that it is only being pursued for dogma, not to save money... the county council must now abandon its ill-conceived plans for a two-tier library service and maintain a professionally run service for all of Surrey's residents."

A council spokesman said: "Asking communities to help run 10 of our smaller branches is not about making savings. Their budgets have not been cut by a single penny.

"Instead, we asked communities to come forward to help us unlock the full potential of these libraries.

"These 10 branches currently account for just 7% of all library use and have limited opening hours.

"Their potential is screaming out to be fulfilled and they need greater community involvement to flourish.

"Rather than maintaining the status quo and watching them decline, our aim is to allow volunteers who are bursting with ideas to take control with council support and tailor their local library to meet local needs."

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