6,500 sign petition in bid to halt library closures

Nick Clegg with Lib Dem councillors and residents outside Stannington library. Lib Dems have collected 6,500 signatures on petition against library closures.
Nick Clegg with Lib Dem councillors and residents outside Stannington library. Lib Dems have collected 6,500 signatures on petition against library closures.

SHEFFIELD City Council is under pressure to rethink a strategy that threatens the future of almost half of the city’s 27 community libraries.

A petition urging the authority to withdraw its proposals - backed by the Liberal Democrats - has been signed by more than 6,500 people.

The Labour council is aiming to save £370,000 this year - and says it has to take such action in response to £50m Government spending cuts. It hopes that some libraries can be saved by the voluntary sector or businesses stepping in. Consultation runs until April 8 .

Lib Dems say money could be saved in other ways, pointing to £2.2m they say is being spent on refurbishing town hall offices, £4.7m on consultants and £500,000 a year on full time trade union officials - figures challenged by council chief executive John Mothersole.

More recently, opposition members have criticised an allocation of up £3,000 for speed reading courses for councillors.

Deputy Prime Minister and Hallam MP Nick Clegg said: “The outstanding response to the petition shows that the people of Sheffield won’t allow their local libraries to be closed down by Labour without a fight. We all know there are difficult decisions to be made and spending has to be reduced. But surely town hall refurbishments and consultancy spend should be cut before closing our local libraries.”

Local Lib Dem leader Coun Shaffaq Mohammed said: “It is farcical that Labour councillors want to spend up to £3,000 on reading lessons for themselves at the same time as voting to close our libraries. Labour can no longer hide behind blaming the Government. We have come up with several alternative suggestions of how to find the required savings. But these have all been rejected by Labour councillors at the expense of closing libraries.”

Labour cabinet member Coun Mazher Iqbal said: “We don’t want to see any libraries close and are doing all we can to try to keep all libraries open in the city. However, given the massive cuts that Nick Clegg is imposing on the council we are having to consider alternative ways of providing the service. We have had a positive reaction to our consultation so far with interest from the voluntary sector and businesses.”

He added: “I find it particularly unbelievable that Nick Clegg has been involved in some of the worst of this scaremongering when the reason that the council is in this financial position is due to his choices to impose such heavy cuts to Sheffield at the same time as some of the wealthiest areas in the country receive almost no cuts at all.”

No names have been given of libraries under threat.

Mr Mothersole has written to Mr Clegg, saying that it is “emphatically not the case” that £2m is being spent on refurbishing town hall meeting rooms. Around £600,000 is going on maintenance of the listed building, including repairs to stonework, leaking roofs and electrical safety.

Improvements will help boost income from weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, it is argued. Actual spending on consultancy fees is put at £543,000, not £4.7m. Consultants are brought in when specialist skills are required, and a business case has to be approved in each instance, says Mr Mothersole.