County council pledges continued support to volunteer-run libraries

Richmond Library.

North Yorkshire County Council, which has warned it will continue to face financial challenges well into the next decade, has pledged to continue providing support to libraries.

The statement by North Yorkshire County Council, which saved £1.4m by handing over 33 libraries to varying levels of community responsibility two years ago, followed a number of concerns being raised over the authority fulfilling its duty under the Public Libraries Act to run a service which takes account of the needs of communities.

A meeting of the council’s corporate and partnerships overview and scrutiny committee heard while library opening hours across the county had increased since the changes, the improved service had come at an extra cost to residents despite the county council providing support staff.

Stokesley councillor Bryn Griffiths said the continued success of the market town’s library was only due to residents agreeing to pay extra council tax for a library manager, as organising 32 volunteers was a complex job.

Scarborough councillor Tony Randerson questioned whether the county would continue providing support staff.

He said: “The libraries are coping on the basis that there is additional paid support by North Yorkshire County Council. Without that I think they would struggle really badly. It is essential that that support is kept on.”

The authority’s libraries general manager Chrys Mellor replied that she could “never say never”, but the council had no intention of removing the support at the moment.

She said: “Most of the groups have come back and said they really do appreciate the staff support being there.”

The committee’s chairman Councillor Derek Bastiman asked for further reassurances over the county council’s future intentions over the library services.

He said: “When we did this transfer there was always that promise that support would be there for these groups provided by county until such a time that everyone thought they could stand on their own two feet.”

Ms Mellor replied: “The money is in the base budget, we are constantly reviewing it and yes, there are one or two libraries that would like to go completely independent, but equally there is also an element that the amount of staff that we have got is looking after a lot of county resources that’s in those libraries and making sure it is being utilised fully.”

The council’s customer engagement executive member, Councillor Greg White added: “We are going to continue to support the libraries. We want them to succeed. Whenever you have organisations that are volunteer-led, you are going to have peaks and troughs of volunteering abilities and skills and we need to be there to help when inevitably one or two of the libraries experience troughs.

“I would be very keen that the resources we put into libraries are about supporting volunteers and building resilience to capacity rather than just issuing books and that sort of things. We want to support the independent organisations to do what they want to do. We are there to support them and help them out a bit, a bit like a worried parent of a teenager.

“We are not concerned about volunteering, We think we have great volunteers who are doing great work, but we would be remiss if we didn’t worry about how this is going to happen in the future.”