Have your say on £800,000 cuts threatening Camden libraries with closure

Councillor Abdul Hai

Councillor Abdul Hai - Credit: Archant

Camden libraries face the greatest threat to their future in four years as residents prepare to have their say on ways to make £800,000 of cuts to help plug a £70million council funding gap.

Libraries could close, see opening hours slashed, be privatised, or become self-service under cost-saving options to be presented to residents in a 12-week consultation this week.

Camden Council plans to make the savings to deal with a £70million deficit left by cuts to its central government funding.

It comes four years after the community stepped in to save and run three libraries in Hampstead, Belsize Park and Primrose Hill when the council slashed £1.6million from its libraries service.

Cllr Abdul Hai, cabinet member for customers, communities and culture, said: “I will do my utmost to keep our nine libraries open, but obviously there will be challenges.” He added: “None of the options is preferred.

“It’s up to residents to make the decision about where they want to make the savings.”

Residents will be given four or five options for ways to make cuts to the libraries service.

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It will consult on the potential closure of any one of its libraries, including Highgate, Swiss Cottage, Kentish Town, West Hampstead, Queen’s Crescent and Camden Town libraries.

But Cllr Hai stressed that there is little risk that one of its largest, Swiss Cottage, would close.

The council could also save about £200,000 by outsourcing the running of libraries to a private company, an option thought to be unpopular with residents.

Its biggest savings of about £500,000 could come by cutting jobs and making libraries self-service only.

But Cllr Hai warned that this could have a “serious knock-on effect” on other services that libraries currently offer, such as computer classes, parenting support and health checks.

Opening hours could also be slashed by 10 per cent, 15pc or up to a quarter, saving between £200,000 and £500,000.

Another option is to base all libraries on the cost-saving model at Highgate Library in Chester Road, where volunteers run the service in partnership with one council staff member.

Cllr Hai said realistically, several of the options would be implemented to make the necessary savings, but that these would be based on what residents suggest.

He envisages that some of the libraries could become “community hubs” with Jobcentres, cafes and other services operating out of the same site.

Residents are also encouraged to come up with alternative ways to make the cuts.

Cllr Hai said: “The key thing for us is to ensure we continue to provide services for the community so that they remain community hubs and that they continue to be places where people come to read, learn and study.

“I think this is an opportunity for us to work in consultation with residents to drive forward a new strategy.”