Councillor Woodward said: “I would like to thank all the people who took the time to respond to our consultation – more than 21,000 people shared their views. It is clear that library services are close to people’s hearts; and it was encouraging that so many people recognise the challenges faced by libraries and want to bring their ideas to the table. I will be looking very closely at this feedback alongside the evidence, as I consider the recommendations later this month.
“Over 70% of respondents agreed with the need for the Library Service to adapt to meet the changing demands placed on it. Proposals to deliver efficiencies, generate additional income and explore different ways of delivering library services all received high levels of support, and I am keen to explore these areas to the absolute maximum as we start to shape the service for the future.
“Our proposals in the public consultation explained that £1.76 million must be saved from the library budget. This is in line with savings that all County Council services must make, to bridge the funding gap faced by local authorities everywhere as demands for services rise, particularly in social care. When you add almost £110 million of unplanned costs and losses to the County Council this financial year, due to Coronavirus, it becomes even more essential that any decisions made now put the Library Service in the best possible position to meet future challenges.”
The consultation offered two options for achieving the major part of the required £1.76 million savings:
- Reduce opening hours of all Hampshire libraries by 25%; or
- Close up to 10 libraries and reduce opening hours of all remaining libraries by an average of 15%
Of those who responded to the consultation, 58% preferred the option of a greater reduction in opening hours for all libraries over individual branch closures.
The County Council has analysed the consultation feedback and based the recommendations for consideration accordingly – recognising the public preference for fewer closures while continuing to position the County Council well to make further savings beyond 2021.
The proposal being recommended to the Executive Member at his Decision Day is to reduce the number of libraries for closure from ten to eight, and to make a reduction in opening hours of the remaining libraries averaging 20%.
Consultation feedback, additional data and alternative suggestions indicated that two libraries (Chineham and Emsworth) should not be closed. The impacts of potentially closing the remaining eight libraries (Blackfield, Elson, Fair Oak, Horndean, Lee-on-the-Solent, Lyndhurst, Odiham and South Ham) have all been carefully assessed and mitigation measures proposed. These eight libraries together currently account for less than 5% of issues and 5% of visits to all libraries in Hampshire.
Councillor Woodward added: “These are difficult choices to have to make, and we continue to work hard to minimise the impact on residents. Our aim is to provide the best possible library service within our means – one that is fit for the future. And although this means we must reduce costs, it does not stop us from innovating and seizing new opportunities.
“For example, while digital take-up was strong before lockdown, even more people of all ages have signed up to digital library services during the pandemic. People have responded very positively to the different ways of accessing library services through the innovative use of technology.”