Derbyshire County Council is set to push ahead with plans to hand over 20 of its 45 libraries to community groups, despite resounding objections.
In March, the authority pitched the plans stating that they would save the council £1.6 million - which would be vital to meet cost-saving targets going forward.
It must save £70 million by 2022.
The council has not yet stated whether any community groups have come forward to run the earmarked libraries.
More than 7,000 people responded to a consultation on the proposals, while a petition objecting to the plans was signed by 3,035 residents.
Out of those who took part in the consultation, 45 per cent disagreed with the plan to hand over 20 of the authority’s least-used libraries to volunteers.
Meanwhile, 31 per cent approved and 24 per cent either didn’t know or neither agreed or disagreed.
Opening hours and staffing would also be reviewed and reduced as part of the proposals, as well as funding for resources, saving £400,000, £360,000 and £140,000 respectively.
A staff review will take place at a later date with full union support, says the council.
The last two remaining mobile library vans could also be handed over to volunteers, with the authority set to be the first in the UK to do so – but if no groups come forward, the resources could be formed into book deposits at community centres.
Council officers concede throughout the report that the proposals would have a disproportionate impact on over 65s, under 18s and families – with other library service changes affecting the disabled.
Some respondents to the consultation felt that libraries provide ‘vital community resources, especially for the old, the lonely, poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged’.
Meanwhile, others stated that libraries ;fulfil a vital, but often hidden role within the community’ and are a ‘lifeline for many’.
In a 197-page cabinet report, to be discussed on Thursday, December 20, council officers stated: “It is considered that despite the number who disagreed with the proposal, the transfer of 20 libraries to community management represents the best opportunity to maintain and potentially improve on the current levels of provision.
“Since we launched the consultation into the proposed changes, I’ve made it very clear that the council is committed to the library service and no libraries will close on my watch.
“The response to the consultation was excellent and we received thousands of responses with some interesting views and ideas.
“We listened to what people had to say and have changed a number of elements of the report to reflect what people told us.
“We believe these proposals are the best way forward to secure the future of our libraries.
“A lack of support for the proposals could lead to consultations on further reductions to opening hours and the materials fund, other than those outlined in the report. This is something people made clear they did not want.”
In response, opposition leader, Labour’s Anne Western, said that she would want all 45 libraries kept under council control.
She said “The Community Managed Libraries proposal is very unpopular in the communities involved.
“Information events have already been held for interested groups in the 20 communities and the analysis in the cabinet report shows that the idea was more unpopular after these events were held than it was before.
“The report doesn’t indicate how many viable offers have come forward to run the libraries in these 20 communities, which speaks volumes.
“But still the Conservatives press on with the idea. How much longer will this country put up with the wanton destruction of local services by the Conservatives?
“They are pressing on with this regardless and have pushed this report back until the last possible meeting, hoping it gets overlooked because of Christmas.”
These are the 20 libraries to be handed to volunteers, with Woodville being the least-used site in the county: Borrowash, Etwall, Clowne, Duffield, Creswell, Brimington, Whaley Bridge, Killamarsh, Melbourne, Hadfield, Holmewood, Gamesley, Whitwell, Wingerworth, Pinxton, Hayfield, Tideswell, Old Whittington, Somercotes and Woodville.
Interested community groups will be asked to come forward to take these on, and once they have registered interest they will be asked to put together a business case.
If no groups come forward for their local library, council officers will look into ‘alternative methods of delivering library services in those communities and any proposed changes would be the subject of additional public consultation before any decisions were made’.
Derbyshire County Council has made up to £50,000 available to help the community groups to set up their libraries.
A further £742,000 will also be made available in grant support for the groups for the next five years.
This support had initially been proposed to last four years, but has been increased following the consultation.
Plans to turn the 25 libraries which would remain in direct council control into ‘smart libraries’ have been temporarily shelved and will be piloted at a later date – due to the level of opposition, 48 per cent disagreed with this plan, 27 per cent agreed, with the rest undecided or neither.
This would see the potential for the public to gain access to libraries at all hours via a key-card, and with no staff on duty.
The report states: “A number of respondents indicated that they would not feel safe or secure when using an unstaffed library and there were concerns that buildings, stock and equipment might be at risk of theft or damage.”
The authority says that ‘extensive’ CCTV would be installed.
The reduction in funding for resources, which would come down from the current £739,818 by £140,000, saw the largest amount of opposition.
In total, 61 per cent disagreed with this, 13 per cent agreed and 26 per cent undecided or neither.
Council officers say this reduction in funding will be ‘potentially’ offset by a surge in donations to the community-run libraries.
Focus groups were held at each of the 20 libraries which are set to be run by volunteers.
Out of the 122 people who attended, the number who felt the proposals were negative increased following discussions with council staff.
The report shows that before discussion, 65.7 per cent felt the plans were negative.
This increased to 69.1 per cent following the session.
People who attended sessions in Tideswell, Duffield and Melbourne raised concerns that there would be no volunteer or community support available to come forward to take on the libraries.
They said that the same volunteers were already working for multiple charities.
The 20 libraries would be financially supported by the council for five years – this is a year extra than originally proposed.
This grant support would begin at a higher rate than the council is currently injecting into each library, but would then reduce year on year, down to zero.
For example, Borrowash, as of 2016-2017 received £10,274 in costs. Once taken over by volunteers it would be given £11,400. In year two this would drop to £8,300, year three £6,200, year four £4,200 and year five £3,100.
This level of funding would differ between libraries.
The council also says that, following the consultation, it would be providing the community groups with a “managed transition” for the first two years with authority staff support.
It will also provide help to recruit and train volunteers.
Resources will also differ between libraries going forward, with a tiered system.
Chesterfield would be the only library in tier one, acting as the central site.
Other libraries can request books and other items from each other, as is already the case, this, the council says, would not lead to inequality between sites.
A further 14 of the most used and needed libraries would lie in tier two, with a further 10 in tier three. The final tier – the fourth – is the 20 libraries being given to volunteers.
Overall, respondents to the council’s consultation disagreed with five out of seven of the proposals.
The two that were agreed with were plans to hand the mobile libraries to volunteers and to stop providing a DVD loan service.
The DVD service would still be retained for free, but only in the libraries in the top two tiers, until March 2021.
The proposals are now set to be sent off to the Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright MP, for approval.
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service