To consider the report.
The Committee considered a report presented by the Strategic Manager, Community & Traded Services which outlined the consultation exercises currently underway regarding proposals on the delivery of the Libraries Service in Somerset.
The public consultation will run for 12 weeks to the 22nd April 2018 and the staff consultation will run until the end of March 2018.
The Committee heard that the current library service is performing well with many strengths but that in order to reduce costs further and continue to deliver a thriving, modernised service, effectively targeted to meet the needs of the population, it is necessary to review and re-design how library services are delivered. The proposals under consultation have been developed following consideration of a wide range of information and data. The proposals show that SCC aim to keep as many library buildings open as possible but that for a number of libraries community support may be required to do this.
The Committee also received a presentation which outlined where further information on the proposals and the evidence, data and impact assessments that support them, can be found online. This information is also available in paper form in libraries. The presentation showed the level of response so far to the consultation across different age ranges.
Council Members were asked for their support in encouraging community engagement and participation in the public consultation and were provided with officer contact details.
A Member commented that libraries shouldn’t be closed if this can be avoided but recognised that some libraries are underused. There is a need to find ways to attract the need to attract more people to use libraries, particularly the young. It was clarified that the data presented referred to consultation responses and not to library usage. There are fluctuating trends with usage as people tend to use libraries most in childhood and later years.
It was suggested that libraries could look to develop more innovative solutions to become more commercial and self-financing. The service is looking at different ways of financing and there are some interesting ideas coming out from the consultation.
Some Members expressed concern about Parish Councils having sufficient time to raise finance through precepting. The Committee was reassured that these views are being considered and will be balanced with the need to reduce Council funding. Timescales are fluid and the Council will take the time to get this right. Following the consultation process, Parish Councils will be asked to submit an expression of interest. This is the first stage before a contractual agreement can be put in place.
Members raised the key role that libraries play in addressing social isolation and loneliness. It was confirmed that social isolation is central to the needs assessment. Outreach services can be taken into communities and it is hoped that they will be effective in addressing these issues.
It was raised that reliance on volunteer support is challenging as this can be difficult to predict or test. Some communities may not feel that volunteer support is viable.
A Member raised the effects of population and housing growth. The Committee heard that housing needs assessment and population growth has been considered and that the re-design is underpinned by a strategy that looks to the future.
It was clarified that SCC is not considering any formal outsourcing of services at this time and this does not form part of the consultation.
It was confirmed that information gathered during the consultation will be analysed and the results will be presented to the Committee at either the 19 June or 10 July 2018 meeting.
The Committee noted the report.