Groups prepare to bid for threatened libraries

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News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.

COMMUNITY groups have come forward to save Sheffield libraries from closure.

Several organisations have announced their interest in taking over branches at risk of being axed through council cuts.

But representatives of groups likely to make approaches have criticised the omission of financial information from a prospectus supplied to potential bidders.

Groups are considering taking over libraries including Broomhill and Walkley.

Sheffield Council says it may close up to 14 of 27 community libraries unless external organisations are interested in taking them over.

The authority says it has chosen not to reveal financial information, such as staffing and running costs, in the public document for ‘confidentiality reasons’.

But Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance, said the details would be available to interested parties at follow-up meetings once they have submitted an expression of interest.

Grenville Wilkinson, of Walkley Community Forum, said: “The running costs are the most important detail to know, and should be in the initial prospectus so groups can decide whether they are interested before making a formal submission.”

Howard Fry, secretary of Broomhill Forum, added: “It would have been handy to know the running costs of each library to start with.

“Broomhill Forum members are interested and we are considering expressing an interest but we are thinking of consulting other community groups in the area to see if a larger bid could be made for several sites.”

Opposition Liberal Democrats agree the prospectus should have been published earlier.

A public questionnaire on the future of the city’s library services was issued in September.

Around 6,000 people returned the questionnaire, 75 per cent of whom said volunteers should be brought in to reduce costs.

Some 54 per cent said charges should be introduced for internet access, while more than half of users said coffee bars or cafes should be introduced to generate income.

Range of services and materials, followed by the number of local libraries, were viewed as the most important parts of the service to protect, while users were less concerned about reductions in opening hours and staff.

Just 23,232 visits were made to Ecclesfield, the least-used library, in 2011/12, while the most popular was Firth Park, with 134,000 visits.

Visit to see the prospectus.