Community libraries set to have leases extended

A class of adult learners in Catterick library

New leases are to be offered to volunteer groups running several Richmondshire libraries.

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive will be asked on Tuesday next week to grant leases for a 10-year period to support community-run libraries in the county.

These include Colburn library, Hawes community library and Catterick Garrison community library.

For this model, the library service continues to provide the infrastructure including books and public IT, as well as paid staff support to ensure consistency across the county.

This followed the council giving the daily delivery of a number of libraries in April 2017 to newly-formed charitable trusts in the face of mounting financial pressures.

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for libraries, Cllr Greg White, said: “We take great pride in the community-run model with our service being in the top 10 per cent of performance nationally. Working in partnership with communities alongside volunteers in all libraries allows the service to meet local needs.

“There continues to be interest from other local authorities and central government as it is proven to retain high standards whilst delivering savings. The original leases of five years were introduced as the new model was unique and unproven. However, it has been a great success so we are proposing to introduce longer leases which will avoid costs around future renewals.”

In 2015, 31 libraries became community-run which provided a saving of £1.4m as of April 2017. The new model has been operational for five years – 10 years for nine libraries.

The community libraries account for just under 40 per cent of active library users and deliver on average 50 per cent of the total business for book lending and the provision of supported digital access via public computers.

More than 1,000 people visited these libraries to claim their Household Support Fund vouchers this summer, and 3,500 children used them as a base for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge.

North Yorkshire is recognised as a low cost, high performing authority in the latest Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) comparative report. The library service has increased opening hours above 2012 levels and business levels are currently above the national average post-pandemic.

Chrys Mellor, libraries manager, added: “During the pandemic many of the community libraries became the base for community support organisations who were vital in the delivery of food, prescriptions and books.

“During the cost of living crisis our libraries are offering warm spaces for vulnerable people in their communities, providing a range of activities.

“Residents should be proud of their communities and library service for retaining such a high-class service which is delivered at a local level.”

Mirroring other local authorities across the country, North Yorkshire County Council had to consider the future of its libraries in the face of cuts in funding from the Government. The library service saw its budget almost halved from £7.8m in 2010 to £4.3m in 2017/18. However, 1,200 volunteers came forward to ensure the facilities kept open.