Plan to keep funding volunteer-run Sheffield libraries until 2020

Walkley Library.
Walkley Library.

Councillors will be asked to back a plan to continue giving financial support to volunteer-run Sheffield libraries.

Sheffield Council's cabinet will on Wednesday consider the future of 16 libraries that were taken out of local authority control in 2014 in an attempt to save £650,000 a year.

Bob Myners at Stannington Library.

Bob Myners at Stannington Library.

At the time the council agreed grants of up to £262,000 a year for 'associate libraries' - run and maintained by volunteers - and 15 hours of support from council staff per week for 'co-delivered' libraries.

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Stannington Library.

Stannington Library.

Those packages are due to end on March 31, and council officers have asked cabinet members to consider extending the financial and staffing support until 2020.

A report to councillors highlights the 'key challenge' of balancing the libraries' independence with council influence.

It says: "If the council limits or reduces its support, some volunteer-run libraries may not be viable, and if too much support is given, they might be regarded as statutory agents that would limit opportunities for them to gain external funding."

Several options have been considered, with officers recommending a plan for continued support - although it would need to be approved in 2017/18 budget.

If approved, the preferred option would make £262,000 available for associate libraries in the first year; followed by a minimum 80 per cent of that amount in year two, and minimum 70 per cent in year three.

In the first year that support would include a direct grant of up to £166,800, new books worth £27,842, a £5,000 marketing budget and £62,358 towards additional operational costs such as training and IT upgrades.

Those amounts would vary in years two and three.

For co-delivered libraries, the council would continue to fund building costs.

Other options considered were to cut all funding and support, or to support either associate or co-delivered libraries.

According to the report, the preferred option would 'give confidence to volunteers and trustees' while building the 'viability' of volunteer-run libraries.

There are risks, however. The report says: "If there is a budget reduction in future years for the library, archives and information service, it may not be affordable for the service to continue to pay for all of the co-delivered libraries from its core budget."

It adds: "Continued support will increase the likelihood of all the volunteer run libraries remaining open and vibrant into the medium and long term as they develop and grow in depth of experience and capability."

The council still runs 12 libraries: the Central Lending Library, Chapeltown, Crystal Peaks, Darnall, Ecclesall, Firth Park, Highfield, Hillsborough, Manor, Parson Cross, Stocksbridge and Woodseats.

The five co-delivered libraries are Broomhill, Burngreave, Park, Southey and Woodhouse.

The 11 associate libraries are Ecclesfield, Frecheville, Gleadless, Greenhill, Jordanthorpe, Newfield Green, Stannington, Tinsley, Totley, Upperthorpe and Walkley.

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