Praise for Westcountry libraries working together to save money
Cross-border collaboration on libraries in Devon and Cornwall could provide a future template for the cash-strapped service nationwide, say MPs.
Co-operation between councils in Devon, Cornwall, Plymouth and Torbay, centred on making back-office savings, was highlighted by members of the Commons Culture Select Committee.
And while evidence submitted to the committee revealed the project still faced financial difficulties and budget cuts, including not achieving its original savings target, it was maintained that the Future Libraries Programme did realise efficiencies and help shore up the service.
MPs on the committee underlined the considerable financial pressures currently faced by local authorities and the problems this presented in meeting their legal duty to provide a "comprehensive and efficient" service.
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Their report into library closures stated: "Although the current crisis may appear to bode ill for the future of public libraries, it also presents an opportunity for a thorough reassessment of their role and of the way they are organised.
"We were given many examples of innovative thinking about what libraries can offer to the local population, and a number of models of how those services might be provided.
"Under the pressure of budget cuts, co-operation between library authorities, partnerships with other public and private bodies, development of new services and the greater sharing of good practice open the possibility of providing more flexible, imaginative and efficient library services in future."
One of the examples raised with the committee was of the consortium of South West libraries, made up of Cornwall, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay.
In evidence to the inquiry, Cornwall Council said one of its aims was to make efficiencies in library back-office functions.
It said: "Through this collaborative approach it was estimated that savings between four per cent and 15 per cent could be achieved through the four library authorities working together.
"However, as a result of the changing financial climate, the budget cuts and existing reviews taking place to ensure a sustainable service for Cornwall were coupled with the implementation of this programme – which was problematic and the original estimation of savings was not achievable. However, the benefits that were achievable would help contribute to developing a strong library service for the future.
"The Libraries for the Future Programme allowed a mechanism to review library services and build on existing partnerships across traditional local authority boundaries and to assist to drive out efficiencies and work more collaboratively together."
The committee heard from witnesses that tough financial times had caused problems for collaborative working.
The MPs said: "Local authorities must ensure that they maintain and improve co-operation, both across boundaries and nationally, as this will free money for frontline library services. It is short-sighted to reduce co-operation at this time of financial constraint."