Hours change in pipeline for town libraries

Central Library

Central Library

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Libraries could be in the firing line as council chiefs look at more ways to save money.

Town hall chiefs today stressed there were no plans to close any of the facilities – but councillors have been consulted over possible changes in opening hours.

One councillor admitted he believes opening hours will be cut but The Gazette understands this may not necessarily be the case.

An email sent out to members whose ward includes a library says “with budget pressures it has been really important for us to look at the current demand placed on the libraries”.

Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group on the council, said he feared the move could see opening hours cut.

He said: “There is definitely an intention to cut the hours otherwise how are they going to save money?

“Conservative councillors will not support or agree to negotiate any reductions in opening hours for our local and town centre libraries.

“Our position is that we want the council to extend more services into these facilities that will support and relieve other council departments and also explore income creating options to safeguard the future of our libraries as important community units. We want to see better and extended services to local residents from our libraries in the areas they serve.”

Blackpool Council currently operates eight libraries - Central, Palatine, Layton, Anchorsholme, Mereside, Boundary, Revoe and Moor Park.

Coun Gillian Campbell, Deputy Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “At present our library team are talking to councillors about potential changes to library services ahead of a possible public consultation later in the year.

“Those changes could potentially include altering opening hours to make them more suitable for residents – including outside of normal standard working hours and more widely at weekends.

“This is something that we feel could potentially increase usage and demand.

“We would be very surprised if anyone, especially councillors, would be against us asking residents whether they would support that.

“While we do have to consider thousands of ways of saving money and all services are facing budget pressures our track record on libraries speaks for itself and everyone knows we value them therefore any suggestion that libraries are in any way under threat is unacceptable.

“In relation to budget savings more generally, we will be launching a widespread budget consultation soon that will look at every aspect of how the council operates and what services can be altered or ceased to save money.”

Coun David Owen, who represents Victoria ward which includes Palatine Library, said any changes to opening hours would be “modest”.

He said: “It is an achievement for all authorities to keep libraries open and they are something most of us are very keen to protect.

“But we have to save a bit of money and I think the opening hours in most of the libraries are going to be reduced.

“We have tried to see what are the peak times when most people use libraries and tailor it to that.

“I don’t think it will make a great deal of difference to people’s use of the libraries, but it is always disappointing when have to reduce the opening hours.”

Twelve years ago five Blackpool libraries were closed under a Labour administration with branches at Claremont, Highfield, Hawes Side, Marton and South Shore all shut, although the new Palatine Library was built on St Annes Road.

In 2011, the then ruling Tories wanted to shut Boundary and Mereside libraries but they were saved by Labour when they took over power at the town hall.

The council has had to find savings of £25m due to cuts to its annual budget this year.