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Concern about library changes

Friday 6th March 2015

CONCERNS have been expressed after details were released of a possible new chapter in the life of Kent’s library service.

The county council says it is proposing to hand over the running of its 99 libraries, registration and archive services to a charitable trust and has asked the public to comment.

Roger Vidler, a regular user as treasurer of the Bearsted and Thurnham Society says care needs to be taken to choose the option that provides the greatest protection to services.

But the county’s cabinet member for community services Michael Hill says he believes passing the service over to a charitable trust is the best option for the service, which needs to save £3.27m “over the next few years”.

He envisages no changes to day-to-day operations for users, no library closures or new opening times or changes to staff, with the trust concept offering the service greater flexibility to develop and generate income.

But while Mr Vidler, who lives in Bearsted – one of the area’s with its own library – says he accepts savings must be made, changes already introduced at Springfield library and in moving archives from county hall had left users feeling things were already not as good as they once were. There were also concerns about privacy when registering births and deaths.

He added: “There is always a fear that services will suffer further as a result of any cost-cutting changes whether it stays under the control of the county council or it moves to a trust.”

Mr Vidler says he will be asking questions at the roadshows being arranged by the county council to provide the public with answers, among them, how much protection will be offered to social activities within libraries, like Bearsted’s knitting circle?

Bearsted Conservative councillor Val Springett added: “I understand the cuts and tough decisions KCC has to make. Transferring library and registration services to a trust is probably a better option than retaining them with the attendant risk that financial pressures could bring the risk of smaller libraries closing. However, I would like to see some reassurance that KCC would offer support to this new Trust, and agree to work with them and the local community to avoid ANY libraries being closed.” 

The county council has confirmed it would remain accountable for libraries and would retain the freeholds of any buildings currently owned by KCC if its preferred option is adopted. Cllr Hill stressed the views of the public will be taken into account and no firm decision has been made.

For the consultation form and details of the roadshows visit Comments need to be in by April 8.