More than half of Norfolk’s libraries could close under sweeping county council budget cuts

Lynn Library could be one of the libraries earmarked for closure under 'worst-case scenario' cuts proposed by Norfolk County Council.
Lynn Library could be one of the libraries earmarked for closure under 'worst-case scenario' cuts proposed by Norfolk County Council.

Almost 60 per cent of Norfolk’s libraries could face closure as county council bosses look to save £111 million over the next three years.

Up to 27 of the county’s 47 libraries could shut by 2018-2019 in a move expected to save £1.6 million.

The controversial proposal is one of just 26 cost-cutting measures being considered by the authority’s communities department, to shave 25 per cent from its budget and collectively reduce its spending by £15 million.

Each department at the council has been asked to show how it could provide services with only 75 per cent of its current funding to help the authority plug its funding gap.

However, council officers have stressed that proposals being put forward would be ‘worst-case scenario’ cuts, as a 16 per cent budget saving would be enough to save the £111 million. The 25 per cent being proposed would save £169 million. A council spokesman said this is to give councillors choices and options about how best to prioritise council spending.

The Communities Committee will discuss its proposals at a meeting on Wednesday.

A report to go before the meeting says if the number of libraries was cut from 47 to 20, the service would have to transfer to communities to operate. But it warns that the service would then be unable to guarantee “high levels of support for literacy, information, learning and early help”.

Other proposals include saving £652,000 from Norfolk Museums Service by 2018-19, by running only a basic service at seven county museums, including Lynn.

Four part-time registration offices at Downham, Fakenham, Swaffham and Watton would also be closed, while the staff at Norwich’s office in Churchman House would be moved to the Archive Centre at County Hall.

The proposals also look at redesigning Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, which is covered by the communities department. It includes savings of £1.2 million by reducing the operational training budget and £1.16 million by reducing retained crews, but warns that a 25 per cent budget saving would see fire stations forced to close, firefighter jobs axed and the number of fire engines reduced.

Councillor Paul Smyth, chairman of the Communities Committee, said: “Council officers have worked very hard to identify how we might find substantial savings at a time of unprecedented demand for public services.

“However, while the focus has been on exploring a 25 per cent saving model we should not forget that a 16 per cent saving across the council would fill the current £111 million funding gap.

“As the era when cuts could largely be made through efficiencies is effectively over, we now have to make more priority-based decisions and be increasingly creative in how we spend money wisely and to best effect.

“This process will be difficult, but it may produce positive developments such as a closer working relationship between the council and local communities, voluntary organisations and other parts of the public sector in the delivery of some services.

“Officers will continue to develop this proposed new service delivery model and, provided the committee wishes to pursue this, will bring further information to the committee to consider in due course.

“I would urge people to take part in the public consultation on the council’s savings proposals which will begin in a few weeks.”