Meeting over threatened Northants libraries

editorial image

The voluntary groups bidding to take over the 20-plus Northamptonshire libraries threatened with closure will meet the council leader this week.

After weeks of confusion and misunderstanding, Conservative county council leader Matt Golby will sit down with the groups on Wednesday (July 18) and explain to them what is happening.

A council report published two weeks ago and then pulled from consideration caused much upset when it said that all of the 21 libraries would close their doors temporarily on September 30.

The county authority wants to close the libraries in an attempt to cut running costs and reduce its outgoings as it is struggling to stay within its financial budget.

An email sent to the independent library bidders last Thursday (July 12) says:  “The Leader of Northamptonshire County Council and Deputy Leader of the Council/Portfolio Holder for Public Health and Wellbeing would like to invite you to a meeting on Wednesday 18th July 2018, in the Carnegie Room, Central Library, Northampton at 1pm- 2.30pm.

“Due to the number of interested parties and key stakeholders we will be holding two separate meetings, one for libraries from the north and one for libraries from the south.

“As the application process is still ongoing, we will not be able to discuss individual applications and discussion will be limited to explaining the decision-making process around library services, the process of closing the libraries, and moving towards an Independent Library model.”

The leaders from the county’s seven districts and borough councils as well as the county councillors who represent the wards of the threatened libraries have also been invited to attend.

The meeting is ahead of a panel board meeting on August 1 when the individual bidders will put forward their case for taking over the libraries.

A judicial review about the legality of the closures is also being heard by the high court at the end of  this month.

The high court judge listening to the case could decide to make NCC look again at its decision to close the doors on the libraries.

Not all of the independent library bidders can make this Wednesday’s meeting.

Clerk from Irchester Parish Council Nikki Daft said the invitation was too last-minute and that the council was already committed to attending another meeting.

Irchester library is in a unique situation as it is a Carnegie library and was built for the parish on gifted land. The county council acquired the library free of charge in the 1960s when it took over its running, but now wants to charge the parish £195,000 to regain ownership. The parish council says it would have to go into debt and take out a public works board loan to buy the library.

All of the libraries have been given different options by the county council with some being asked to buy the building and others being gifted a rental option. The authority owns 12 of the 21 threatened libraries and could stand to make £3.25m if all are sold.

Sarah Ward

Local Democracy Reporter