A councillor has demanded an assurance that libraries won’t close if Kirklees Council fails to persuade voluntary groups to take them on.

The council wants to withdraw council staff from eight smaller libraries and hand over management to local groups.

The council’s Cabinet has agreed to go ahead with plans to create ‘community managed libraries’ and will start talks with ‘Friends of’ groups and others about taking operational control.

The eight libraries selected from the 24 across Kirklees are: Meltham, Honley, Kirkheaton, Marsden, Skelmanthorpe, Denby Dale, Shepley and Mirfield.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s Cabinet, Clr Adam Gregg (Con, Lindley) said the council was asking a lot of volunteers who had already stepped up to help and asked what would happen if voluntary groups didn’t want to take on responsibility for their library.

“The ‘Friends of’ groups I’ve spoken to feel they are a victim of their own success,” he said. “What assurance do we have that this council will not close any library should community management not be possible?”

Clr Paul Davies, Cabinet member for corporate services, said there were no guarantees at a time the council was “chronically under-funded.”

He said the council was committed to the importance of its libraries and added: “This is an opportunity to keep our estate (the libraries) going in very difficult financial times but assurances are not easy to come by in the current situation.”

Clr Charles Greaves (Ind, Holme Valley North) said there was a danger communities who had stepped in to help run their libraries now felt “betrayed” as the volunteers took one step forward while Kirklees took one step back. Read more about that HERE.

Clr Greaves said removing the part-time council staff who supported volunteers at Meltham and Honley libraries would bring “negligible” savings.

Clr Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) urged the Cabinet to publish the criteria for why the eight libraries were chosen for community management and also a breakdown of costs and savings.

He said the “sword of Damocles” was now hanging over these libraries.

As part of a shake-up of local libraries aimed at saving £1.86 million over two years, the Cabinet also agreed to move the stand-alone Customer Service Centres into Huddersfield and Dewsbury libraries.

Customer Service Centre staff help vulnerable people access council services but the council says demand has fallen by 60% since the pandemic as more people have learned how to access services remotely.

The Customer Service Centres will be integrated into the libraries but a source claimed library staff wouldn’t help people in the same way as those in Customer Service Centres.

“It is not intended that library staff will learn how to answer council tax enquiries or help with applying for a blue badge,” he said. “Instead they might help customers fill out forms on a computer or put someone on the phone.”

The closure of the Customer Service Centres and the move to community managed libraries could cost 47 jobs.

In a statement after the meeting, Clr Davies said: “By introducing a customer service function to libraries and allowing some libraries to become community managed, we can offer residents a greater role and say in how their library is run and this can only add to the strength of the local community.”