Axe hangs over Hampshire libraries as programme of county council cuts is revealed

Gosport Discovery Centre. There will be a 1.7m savings programme in libraries - although no particular library has been singled out yet
Gosport Discovery Centre. There will be a 1.7m savings programme in libraries - although no particular library has been singled out yet
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LIBRARIANS across Hampshire are facing redundancy and libraries could be closed for good, as the county council looks to make significant funding cuts.

The council needs to save £80m by 2021, in anticipation of a budget shortfall. As part of this, £1.7m will disappear from the library services’ budget – roughly 2.1 per cent of the total shortfall.

Through these savings, 40 to 50 full-time jobs in libraries could be scrapped, with libraries facing shorter opening hours or even permanent closure.

Campaigners say these cuts should be reconsidered, given how much Hampshire’s 53 libraries offer to the community.

The council’s executive member for recreation and heritage, Cllr Sean Woodward, says there is no other option but to make the savings.

'Libraries are the biggest cost in my role, that’s just a fact of life,’ he said.

‘The government grant received each year has completely dried up, and since the money for education is untouchable we need to save elsewhere.

‘It’s not easy but it needs to be done.’

While staff positions across the county are under threat, Cllr Woodward hopes that no library will close for good.

The council’s contingency plan is to offer closing libraries to the community for takeover.

He said: ‘The greatest cost to the county council is the people, so jobs are always a risk when you need to make savings.

‘It may be that some people are naturally leaving already, so those vacancies just won’t be filled up.

‘But all options have to be looked at and that must include the possibility of closing libraries.’

The Library Campaign, a national charity that is urging councils to U-turn on proposed closures, has voiced its disappointment at the county council’s plans.

Chairwoman Laura Swaffield has described the move as ‘absolute madness’, but with similar decisions being made across the county, is not surprised.

‘Hampshire County Council has been doing things like this for decades,’ she said.

‘We have every sympathy for local councils, but considering how little libraries cost, and what a lifeline they are to so many people, closing libraries is a false economy.’