Support grows in Harrogate for Starbeck Library campaign

Starbeck Library's volunteer librarians Trix Davies, Anne Henry, Margaret Manning, Maureen Walker and Moira Smith. (150127AM3)
Starbeck Library's volunteer librarians Trix Davies, Anne Henry, Margaret Manning, Maureen Walker and Moira Smith. (150127AM3)

The Harrogate Advertiser Series is backing a Starbeck campaign asking the county council to continue supporting the local library.

At present there are two paid members of staff and about 30 volunteers working at Starbeck Library, and costs are met by NYCC.

Proposals put before the public in November 2014 would pull this support to make Starbeck Library, along with 19 others, ‘community managed’, with no members of staff and reliant on volunteers and partners coming forward to run it.

According to the plans, which would cut £1.6m from the NYCC libraries budget, already reduced by £2m, there will be arm’s-length support from a ‘core’ library and some assistance from NYCC, including financial help which executive member for libraries Coun Chris Metcalfe (Con) said would include all running costs.

However, campaigners argue the community would be responsible for raising the money to keep the library open - a staggering £65,500 - and could not manage it.

To avoid this, the campaign calls for continued support from NYCC, which would be available if Starbeck became a ‘hybrid’ library, in line with plans for Knaresborough and Ripon, where one member of staff and all costs will be met by the council.

By 2020 NYCC has to have achieved savings of about 170m. £94m has already been identified or implemented, but another £74m is needed to meet the total reduction of 34 per cent of its budget. Cuts to libraries are a key part of this cost-saving regime.

The deadline is now looming for the public to have its say on the future of libraries.

This Sunday (February 8) the consultation on planned cuts to libraries will end. Starbeck Library could then lose all staff and some funding and Starbeck Residents’ Assocation has launched a campaign to change plans to make the library ‘community managed’.

Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) for Harrogate and Knaresborough have echoed the call to make Starbeck a ‘hybrid library’, with costs and staff met by NYCC.

Current MP and Conservative PPC Andrew Jones said: “Libraries are valuable community hubs and must remain open. Even if run differently, NYCC must guarantee to step in if services deteriorate.

“Money is tight but budgets are about choices. The government chose to increase funding for roads and schools in North Yorkshire. Councillors need to choose to fund libraries if new operating models do not work. I will continue to press the County Council to make the right choices.”

Lib Dem PPC Helen Flynn said: “What matters is the level and quality of service to the public who pay through taxes for a library service. I would have liked to see more options of how services could be run.

“I also think now is the time to go for unitary status. Cutting out duplication of back office functions of two tiers would save hundreds of thousands and preserve properly funded frontline services.”

Labour PPC Jan Williams said: “Everyone who values living in Starbeck should join the residents’ association and be part of its well-reasoned campaign that without a single librarian or payment of its running costs the library - the hub of that community and lifeline to the most vulnerable - will close. Conservative right-wing ideology to shrink the state prevails as feeble Lib Dem ministers look on. After the election Labour will show it can do things differently.”

UKIP PPC David Simister said: “Libraries are a focal point for many communities, and Starbeck’s is no exception. Thanks to a dedicated army of unpaid volunteers, Bilton Library – highlighted for closure three years ago - was saved.

“However, this outcome is unlikely to be mirrored in all cases, and a number will inevitably shut for good. Once gone, they will never return, and only then will we realise just what an important, prised asset we have lost.”

Green Party PPC Shan Oakes said: “The proposals stem from demands of the coalition on councils to make them pay for excesses of the finance sector. The most vulnerable are being forced to make sacrifices because this government refuses to tax fairly and spend wisely.

“Libraries fight loneliness: a warm hub with the internet, other people, and professional staff. The State should give this as much priority as defence of the realm.”

Libraries across the district are still open and this Saturday will celebrate National Library Day. At Starbeck this will include a Harry Potter event from 10am to noon, with children encouraged to dress up.