Council cutbacks could pay for overspending in other budgets

Campaigners fighting to save Suffolk’s libraries reacted with anger as it emerged the cutbacks would pay for overspending in other council budgets.

Suffolk County Council has said it can no longer afford to run 29 of its 44 libraries and warned they would close if communities did not come forward to take them over.

The move is to make more than �2m of savings.

Bosses have said communities have until April 2013 to confirm deals to run their libraries but it has now emerged that more than �1m has to be saved in the next financial year – which will cut the existing library service by 15pc and increase the pressure on local people to act.

And cutbacks to library services in 2011-12 will make only make �350,000 of new savings, according to papers going to next week’s cabinet meeting, with a further �700,000 covering an overspend on this year’s social care budgets. Further savings will be needed in 2012-13.

Last night, campaigners said the council viewed libraries as a “soft touch” and was using cuts to the service as a “get out of jail free” card.

Steve Smedley, who has begun a campaign to save Leiston Library, said: “The county council certainly seem to have got themselves into something of a financial mess and have been caught using the library budget as a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

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“What other examples of financial mismanagement are being covered up by cuts in libraries and other public services?

“I am sure these revelations will only serve to harden the resolve of library campaigners across Suffolk to reject the county council’s unpopular plans for cuts and closures.”

He added: “It is clear that Suffolk County Council views libraries as a soft touch.”

Josiah Meldrum, from Sustainable Bungay added: “The council should not be robbing Peter to pay Paul when core services are under threat.

“We don’t want to see any cut in care budgets either, but in the broader scheme of things we are talking about quite small amounts of money in large budgets and I would rather see cutbacks in executive salaries.”

The council has launched a consultation on the future of its libraries, which runs until April.

It wants to hear from groups interested in taking over the running of their libraries and is aiming to secure deals to hand them over by April 2013.

But the council wants to make savings much sooner than that as it bids to cut �43m from next year’s overall budget.

Suffolk’ libraries currently cost just under �9m a year to run.

It has been warned that the threatened libraries will close if no-one comes forward to run them.

The proposals have caused anger and concern from library users, communities and leading authors.

A council spokesman said the authority could potentially overspend by �7m on social care payments in 2010-11, largely due to “growing demand for care and support for vulnerable adults”.

Adult and community services need to find �12.4m of savings in 2011-12, he added.