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Camden library budget to be slashed by £2million

PUBLISHED: 10:39 22 November 2010

Howard Jacobson at Heath Library

Howard Jacobson at Heath Library

Archant

SPENDING on Camden’s libraries will be slashed by a massive £2million as the cuts begin to bite, the borough’s finance chief has revealed.

Cllr Theo Blackwell told the Ham&High this week that the council’s £8million library budget is set to be reduced by a quarter over the next three years.

His announcement came in response to claims last week that several community libraries will face the axe.

And Cllr Blackwell admitted that with the unprecedented savings Camden has been asked to make there would “inevitably” be some library closures, but dismissed speculation that libraries will be slashed from 13 to four.

“The horrible choice is that the more you want to protect the libraries in one part of the borough, the more pressure there is on a library in another area, or on after-school clubs or luncheons for older people or a play-centre for children,” explained the Labour councillor for Gospel Oak.

“People need to realise the scale of the cuts is so massive we can’t get there by efficiencies alone.”

But Cllr Blackwell promised the axe would not fall as hard as it has done in other boroughs and claimed the library service would remain strong.

He said suggestions that Camden would only be left with four libraries was a “wild idea”.

“When we came into power in May there was quite a worked- up programme from officers to reduce the libraries service to this hub of four very large libraries,” he said. “Within the library profession there’s this thing about having big super libraries instead of small branch libraries. But we rejected that out of hand and immediately.”

However, Belsize Conservative councillor Jonny Bucknall said Cllr Blackwell should not yet have even the “faintest contemplation” of closures until he has explored every other avenue.

“Each library should be looked at as a special case and they should work with the friends of the libraries to keep the doors open and encourage blue sky thinking,” he said.

“If he’s considering closing any libraries without exploring all possibilities of keeping them open it is a complete dereliction of duty.”

Ruth Gorb, committee member from the Friends of Heath Library, said she was distressed by the idea of any libraries being shut.

“I’ve been told the amount spent on libraries in general is minimal compared to what is spent in other areas,” she said.

“Is it worth the small saving for such a huge upset?”

Ms Gorb stressed that high level support for Camden’s libraries was already coming from local authors such as Howard Jacobson.

The Booker prize winner visited Heath Library last week and gave a rousing speech, calling on people to fight for their free libraries because they were our civilisation.

Cllr Blackwell said the council will announce all its financial plans for Camden’s public services on Tuesday.

A full public consultation is due to follow.

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