‘One-third’ of Kent libraries could be sold to community organisations such as parish councils, says county council

Libraries

By Local Democracy Reporter Simon Finlay

Library buildings in Kent could be sold off to save money, county council bosses have announced.

Cash-strapped Kent County Council’s deputy leader Peter Oakford said the disposals could come in the 2025-26 budget.

Cllr Oakford claimed Kent has “far too many libraries” compared to neighbouring authorities.

The authority, which is in charge of 99 libraries, must find tens of millions of pounds worth of savings in the face of squeezed government funding and rising costs.

According to one well-placed source, one-third of the libraries in Kent could be affected but the overall anticipated saving is not yet known.

Conservative-run KCC recently shelved the proposed closure of four of the county’s rubbish tips after a massive public outcry.

Liberal Democrat opposition group leader, Cllr Antony Hook, claimed residents’ reaction to the loss of libraries is likely to be akin to “the tips on stilts”.

He said libraries are “essential” community resources used by residents of all ages, as well as valued meeting places for local groups.

‘Sold or disposed of’

Cllr Oakford told the policy and resources cabinet committee on Wednesday (January 17) libraries could be “sold or disposed of” to local community organisations such as parish councils.

But he added that KCC will not be “gifting” library buildings, saying: “I think we’re all aware that Kent has far too many libraries. We have more libraries per head than any other organisation or local authority in the country. We currently have 99 libraries.

“The administration will bring a proposal forward sometime this year to see where libraries can be sold or disposed of to local communities such as parish councils, to other organisations if we were to deem that we would want to carry on running them as a library, and perhaps if a parish wanted to keep a library in their area.

“The thing that we will not be doing is gifting these buildings. When this has happened in the past, KCC has passed a building over to a local parish council as an example but has retained the liability for that building, so we’ve had to carry on paying the maintenance etc. This is something we can no longer afford to do.”

Thanet Labour county councillor Barry Lewis said: “We should be proud that we have more libraries than any other county in the country and should be increasing their use rather than talk about selling them or closing them.”

‘Appalled’

After the meeting, Cllr Hook said: “We are appalled at this Conservative plan to cut libraries.  They appear to have learned nothing from their disastrous scheme to put household waste centres up for closure which was beaten back by public pressure.

“Libraries are essential – Kent’s libraries are used by thousands of people every week. Not only do they provide free access to books, newspapers, audio books and other resources they also provide free Internet and computer facilities for everyone.

“Many of the people who used libraries rely on it being relatively local to them and could not easily travel to another town’s libraries. Taking library services away will increase people’s cost of living further.

“Many of Kent’s libraries have other vital community uses. Some clubs and societies meet in them. In Faversham, our library has a changing spaces area which is vital for some disabled people to visit the town centre.

“Libraries also provide registration of births and deaths. Do we really want to make new parents or bereaved people travel further for registration services?”

‘Cannot be ruled out’

Cllr Harry Rayner, deputy cabinet member for finance, told members: “There is no policy for the disposal of any libraries, as things stand, but this cannot be ruled out, and there may be a reduction in the number of libraries.”

He said library buildings should not be given away but continued community use should be favoured.

Cllr Rayner said KCC will argue that libraries are “semi-discretionary” in terms of council spending but would have to work with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in ironing out the details.

Previous reduction in services

In 2019 library hours at sites across the county, including Thanet, were reduced to save KCC £960,000 over two years.

At that time KCC said in 2017-18 it spent £15,993,000 on running Libraries, Registration and Archives services. LRA services brought in an income of £6,300,000; the majority coming from registration services leaving a cost of £9,623,000. The vast majority of spend – £11,328,000- was on staffing.

Updated statement from KCC

County Council (KCC) Cabinet Member for Community & Regulatory Services, Clair Bell, said: “Despite the unprecedented and well-documented financial pressures the council is facing, there are no plans currently underway to close libraries across the county.

“We are continuing, as we have in the past, to monitor and review KCC library services to ensure they are sustainable in the future, looking at all the options. For example, the potential for sharing premises with other services, such as post offices or adult education, as happens now in some locations.

“Building condition, maintenance costs and usage are all factors to consider, as is the spread of libraries across the county.  We will explore some initial work with parish councils who have expressed interest in running a library, and how they might be supported to do so.

“Any changes to the library service would involve full public consultation.  However, at present there are no proposals to reduce the number of libraries available to Kent residents.”

38 Comments

  1. Hope they dont close margate library especially as i hold my councillors advice surgery every last Saturday morning in the month in the morning.apart from that libraries are often the centre of a community with a font of information

      • Can remember when it really was a huge library & you had to be quiet back in the 1980’s. The ‘Community Hub’ with a few books, loads of computers, lots of shouting drunks, screaming kids running around etc is sadly the modern way.

      • Mrs pink, held in separate room , privacy is key when dealing with important individual issues. Please come and discuss your identity crisis with me this Saturday morning as obviously you need counselling.

  2. It’s ridiculous to claim that Kent has more libraries than other council areas.
    Somewhere will always have the most, or the least.
    It is an extremely trite argument by Cllr Oakfield.
    As Cllr Lewis points out, a library is a vital hub in a community. Sometimes the only one.
    If KCC is looking to save money, they might check and see if there are any more useless projects like Thanet Parkway in the pipeline, and scrap that instead.

  3. it’s an extremely philistine argument by cllr Oakfield. And which council wasted lots of money on Thanet Parkway railway station?

  4. Maybe KCC should have stuck with the policy to close the tips. Then maybe the money saved could have helped fund libraries and youth services. Personally I’d say they are more important.

  5. This proposal is another nail in the coffin for the education and literacy of future generations.

    Too many folk have their head stuck in a computer game for hours on end rather than their head in a good book. Their ability to communicate and interact with others then becomes dulled and stunted as a result.

    • I was speaking to a quite intelligent 50-something woman recently. When I mentioned books, she said “I used to read them, but now I only read Facebook”.

      Progress, eh?

    • New ant-spam software, stops people spamming the page with multiple posts of nonsense – good to see it’s working 🙂

      • They’re now published (there was onbviously a technical problem). But thank you for the intelligent and well-explained contribution to the debate on library closures. You’re obviously very well-read.

    • Don’t forget to do the Maths question, one of those pop up puzzles would mean you can’t.

      • There does seem to be less Loop-ites on here lately (i.e., those too stupid to use buses with numbers on), so it’s obviously working!

  6. The Austerity party are running out of items to flog, they have stripped our Country almost bare. I watched this morning on TV to a Tory supporter blaming Covid (in desperation to find any excuse) The £156 billion bill on Quotative Easing by Cameron and Osbourne is for – bolden to be mentioned EVER!! it’s still there. Sadly we have no viable replacement for these who are only interested in “Vested interests” a phase that Sunak used more than 3 times in his Conference speech, hopefully sending a message out to the greedy?

  7. KCC should be celebrating the fact that it has an above average number of libraries, not trying to drag it down, and many have already been closed. Libraries are not just for books – I don’t need to list all the things that go on there, but reducing the number would have a detrimental social effect. We must fight this!

    • I totally agree Margaret. I wonder what James Pearson, head of LRA, has to say in reply? Does he quote the party line of short term cuts for long term suffering or actually care
      about library provision?

  8. Local community groups will not have the finance to run libraries, it will be the beginning of the end for the ones selected.

  9. As the main cost of running libraries is staff salaries, rather than closing them, perhaps a better solution would be to have reduced opening hours and have fewer staff, some of whom could cover two libraries. That would also be a way of reducing heating and electricity.

    I am sure many would still object to this, but better that than lose the library. And we can all soon get used to the revised opening hours.

    • @Jane. Speaking as a KCC employee (not in a library) the only risk with minimal cover and opening hours is that the building and infrastructure costs are there even when the building is closed and minimal staffing doesn’t allow for staff sickness, maternity, etc and at those points the building is forced to close. KCC, in many services, has already reduced to the minimum staff numbers, so where else do you go? I have had a fair few days lone working where there was no option and no way to cover. Certain services, like Libraries, can’t operate with just one person in situ and there are lots of aspects to running a service that are not visible to the public. I think that at the heart of this is the fact that so little money is given to local authorities by Central Government and there is simply no way for them to avoid losing money. No one wants a council tax rise, so where does the money come from? The concern for me is, what will they do when there is nothing left to sell? The whole system is short sighted and frankly it comes from the very top and the imaginary need to clear the National Debt with ‘austerity’ measures. We have a massively failing Goverment and have done for quite some time, but they are incredibly good at spin and clouding their local failings with bickering over Rwanda and WhatsApp chats. The great solution to be re-elected apparently?…..cut National Insurance. Typical short term bribery by the party, Which of course will lead to less income for the Government, but as long as they stay in power they can always reverse that, or creep it back by punishing people on benefits or those who are to poor to complain and then distract us by appearing on Love Island or by sending refugees to Mars

      • No – and if I WAS a writer I would NOT want my books in libraries (unless I was paid lots of money) as it would distract from potential sales.

        (As for Checksfield, I read somewhere that he’s writing a book on The Dave Clark Five. Who on earth would want to buy that?!)

        • I do hope that some will buy it Ms. Pink. Although there must be a very limited market for his type of books. The majority of the info in them is readily available on the internet, it’s such a waste of his talents. If only he’d try writing fiction.
          At least if he’s busy researching he’s not bombarding these pages with his inane comments.

          • I’ve heard he does many exclusive interviews as part of his research (130 of them in a book on The Rolling Stones, and every surviving former and current band member for his book on The Tremeloes). I don’t know for sure though, as I’ve never read any of them, as I only read about kittens and knitting!

            How about you, do you write. I wish I could!

        • Well Ms. Pink. Peter does appear to be kept extremely busy with his little books. You seem to be very knowledgeable about his work. You always champion his exploits and defend his antics. I wonder if there is a connection between you two. Maybe he’s your brother or lover. Or something else you’d rather not say.
          If what you say is true and most of his interviews are exclusive. In a way that confirms what I say about the limited market for his work. Surely if there was a bigger demand then many writers would like to interview these stars.
          To answer your question that you didn’t give me the option to reply to. No. I do not write. There is no way that anything I would write would be of a high enough standard to interest any publisher, and I’m certainly not concited enough to publish my own work.

          • I wish he was my lover! A very handsome chap, even if he is a bit too young and slim for a plump(ish) old girl like me.

  10. On the contrary I heard that Peter Checksfield had been given an Arts Council grant not to write anything.
    I mean is the world ready for a Checksfield book on the Dave Clark Five?

    Perhaps there is one too many KCC’s and not libraries.
    A county which has more libraries than other councils is surely a good thing.Something to be proud of.
    They can’t get rid of the library service though they tried, so oafish Oakford suggests death by a thousand cuts instead.
    So we have had children services cut, waste tips on the cuts list,now libraries again.
    It will not do, and it will not solve KCC’s problems.

  11. With Wages, utilities, maintenance, taxes, and other overheads. It will be the death of the libraries selected. One option is to make those libraries part time and split the costs 90 to 10 in favour of the local group paying the 10 percent, or losing the small town libraries and ensuring there is a mobile library for village and small towns. Not ideal but an option, without one of these options or a sustainable sensible alternative, they will be lost entirely as will many which are not on the list in coming years. You see the Tories cannot cut taxes, give back be your best buddy, without Services being effected that the money previous to cuts would have paid for. See more austerity coming, they are leaving a mess for Labour.

    • Spot on, Steve.
      We are told that the Chancellor has a “tax cut bonanza” for us in the Budget.
      But cutting rqxes means cutting public spending.
      What could ho wrong?
      We get a 1p or so off our income tax. Meanwhile,:
      Potholes unfilled.
      Schools and hospitals riddled with RAAC
      Transport infrastructure in tatters
      Armed forces a sham
      No NHS dental s3rvice in most places
      And if taxes are cut, it will only get worse.

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