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Majority of Newcastle libraries to be axed as cuts bite

LIBRARIES are to be closed down across Newcastle as the next round of spending cuts begins.

High Heaton Library which may have to be closed

LIBRARIES are to be closed down across Newcastle as the next round of spending cuts begins.

The vast majority of Newcastle’s 18 libraries will either be closed down or handed over to community groups as city chiefs set out £90m of cuts over the next three years.

Only the newly-rebuilt city centre library is said to be safe from the axe. Branch libraries at Blakelaw, Cruddas Park, Denton Burn, Dinnington, Fawdon, Fenham, High Heaton, Jesmond, Moorside, Newbiggin Hall and Walker could all be under threat.

Council bosses will confirm final numbers next week, but are expected to say that those libraries not already part of a customer service centre or shared with another council facility will be axed.

Even those locations will come under closer scrutiny to see if community groups can take over.

The council has said it has no choice but to try to save £7m from the library budget, some 40% of the money handed to such cultural services over three years.

The move comes just 12 months after Newcastle’s Labour leadership saved library services from the cuts in their last budget.

Now officers say they have no choice but to start closing down branches. Library services director Tony Durcan said the council had to ask were libraries and leisure affordable in an age of austerity?

He told The Journal that over the next three years most of the council’s current library provision would go, either through closure or as a result of the service being taken over by other groups.

He said: “We are in this position because frankly we cannot go on as we were before. We face significant spending cuts and that will have a substantial impact on our budget.

“It is part of wider changes to the entire culture and leisure budgets and that is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in.”

And writing for The Journal, he added: “There were times when the scale of the task seemed overwhelming and likely to leave little but the bare bones of a service. Facing the prospect of dismantling much of what we’ve achieved has been highly emotional.

“But, through this angst, I think we’ve arrived at a set of proposals which go a long way to securing a quality library and leisure service that Newcastle can continue to be very proud of.”

The final details will be confirmed when the draft budget is announced on November 20. As yet the council has not said which libraries will be closed down, but it is thought those in customer service centres are the safest.

Last night people using one Newcastle library, High Heaton, said they would fight any closure. The branch was refurbished as part of a £40m PFI deal in 2009 but city leaders have been unable to say if it is safe.

Lucy Dreyer, 32, was one of those using the library yesterday to get a card for her 11-week-old baby Max.

She said: “I read a lot for the baby, that’s why I joined. I’m just gutted that it might close and I’m very surprised. We have grown up around here, and the library’s part of the area. Can they not cut something else?”

Martin Thompson, 57, unemployed, said he goes to the library once or twice a week to do job searches. “I would be shocked if this library closed. It’s well used. It would be very difficult to find another library.”

This week, the council set out evidence that is said showed the full extent of “hugely unfair” Government cuts on the city.

Updated funding figures were released showing that by 2014 the likes of Newcastle will lose around £158 per head for essential services, while councils in the South either lose just a small amount or in some cases actually make a small financial gain.

The council had earlier warned that current projections suggest that by 2020 it will have no money for non-care services.

Misery for youngsters >>>

FUNDING for after-school clubs, holiday play schemes and children’s groups across Newcastle is to go.

Staff at play services for children aged five to 12 have been told their jobs are at risk as Newcastle Council looks to enforce £90m of Government cuts over the next three years.

At least 10 facilities will be affected as £1.1m is axed in one of many funding changes.

Currently the authority does not know what, if any, community groups will be able to pick up the slack, meaning an uncertain future for many services.

While some independent nurseries will survive, for other after-hours groups and school holiday centres the funding cuts mean the services will be finished from April.

Those set to be hit include play centres in Byker, Scotswood, Benwell, as well as the Nunsmoor play centre in Arthurs Hill, among others.

Next week detailed budget plans will begin to set out where the axe will fall. Cuts to youth services will mean no more council cash for toys and other playschool equipment.

City leaders say responsibility for the cuts lies with Government grant reductions. More than £90m is set to go from council budgets over the next three years, a mixture of Government grant cuts and increased costs, and councillors have made it clear many services which people depend upon will be abolished or substantially reduced.

Nick Forbes, leader of the council, said: “The city council has been placed in an impossible position by this Government, facing a £90m cut – that’s a third of our revenue budget over the next three years.

“In the last two years we have suffered huge cuts in revenue grant that people in this city depended upon.

“Those cuts, and the cuts that we face over the next three years, have put us on the edge of a precipice, where we are having to consider cutting all services other than those we are required to provide by law.

“We value young people in our city – but if we do not have the money, how can we provide these services?

“I will be raising this issue as a matter of urgency in a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the hope that the Government listens to us and gives us the financial support that we need before it is too late.”

 

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Dan Warburton
Chief News Reporter
David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Adrian Pearson
Regional Affairs Correspondent
Angela Upex
Head of Business
Mark Douglas
Chief Sports Writer
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer