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Volunteers set to run three Camden libraries

PUBLISHED: 17:42 10 June 2011 | UPDATED: 18:00 10 June 2011

Community organisations will have to run and finance Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm libraries from 2013, after the council approved plans to cut £1.6m from the libraries budget.

This means that volunteers will now have to come up with a business plan to finance the three libraries – which currently cost Camden more than £500,000 a year.

The council has pledged to finance the libraries for one year with “transitional” funding.

Cabinet member for culture and the environment, Labour councillor Tulip Siddiq led the re-organisation of the libraries’ service.

She told the council chamber on Wednesday night that councillors had not been elected to close libraries but the changes were needed because of the government’s cuts to local authorities.

“These are not decisions we’ve enjoyed taking but we are making the best of a bad situation and will try to help with the transition funding,” Cllr Siddiq said.

As part of the changes, there will also be a 10 per cent reduction in library opening hours, the mobile library will close, Highgate Library will have to share its facilities with other council services and Regent’s Park Library will offer IT and education services.

The Local Studies and Archives service, currently based in Holborn Library, is set to be moved but will remain in the borough.

There was one small reprieve for archive users, the cabinet agreed to reduce the funding cut from £135,000 to £70,000.

The cuts will result in 35 job losses across Camden’s 13 libraries.

Alan Templeton, chairman of the Camden Public Libraries User Group, made a deputation at the meeting. He asked the cabinet to consider ditching the officers’ plan and instead, reduce opening hours at all of the borough’s libraries, supplementing paid staff with a borough-wide volunteer system.

But finance boss, Theo Blackwell told the chamber that delaying the decision would cost the council £800,000.

More than 6,000 people responded to a consultation on the libraries after Camden announced it was looking at how to make £1.6m cuts. It did not give residents the opportunity to state they did not want any libraries to close. However, in response to the question of how would they make the first £1m savings, 57 per cent of respondents said they would prefer to see a 40 per cent reduction in opening hours.

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