Well, not directly, but indirectly they certainly have. Last week, Paul Francis wrote an article revealing that Kent County Council aim to force local communities to run a number of libraries across the county. Interestingly though, the detail reveals that they really don’t need to at all:
As many as 10 libraries in Kent could be taken over by parish councils or other community groups as part of a drive by the county council to save money.
The council is in discussions over transferring responsibility for running some of its libraries to volunteers in a move it believes will benefit library users and others.
Although the authority has reaffirmed that it does not have any plans to shut libraries, it plans to reduce spending on the service by £500,000 next year – with the budget for its 97 libraries going down to £13.2m.
Of course, such a move won’t benefit library users, indeed it is likely to lead to a further reduction in service through the adoption of a model that is demonstrably unsustainable. But the key point here is the £500,000 the council aims to save by next year, a figure that the council indirectly admits it doesn’t really need to cut.
Early last year, the council announced that it planned to create a £5 million Big Society Fund “for town and village groups to tap into”. This figure was later reduced to £3 million (with £1m being donated to the Kent Community Foundation each year until 2014). Given that the council plans to cut the library budget by £500,000, the money that the council is investing in the Big Society Fund (BSF) could maintain the existing library service for six years. Of course, if the council are so determined to continue to experiment with taxpayers money in creating this BSF, perhaps they might consider using £2m to maintain the existing service for four years and then invest the rest in the BSF. Or even reduce the budget slightly but look at other ways to cut costs. That way, the people of Kent get to keep a vital service and the council get their opportunity to experiment. Can’t say fairer than that can we? After all, Kent County Council have already accepted the money is there, so why not use it?