‘Hands off our libraries’ – fight launched to save nine Sunderland branches from closure

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BOOK lovers are to fight plans to close nine libraries in the city.

The Echo revealed on Thursday that Sunderland Council plans a shake-up of the service, aimed at saving £850,000.

Gary Duncan

Gary Duncan

Protestors have reacted angrily to news that Doxford Park, Easington Lane, East Herrington, Fence Houses, Hendon, Monkwearmouth, Silksworth, Southwick and Washington Green libraries face the axe. Hands Off Sunderland Libraries has launched a Facebook group and online petition against the proposed cuts, which come after the first stage of consultation on the Future Library Services Review, which received 2,785 responses.

Organiser Gary Duncan said: “It’s a disgrace. The closure of nine Sunderland libraries will have a devastating effect on our communities.

“Why should Sunderland people lose services and suffer job losses when there is an alternative to cuts?

“The Labour council should refuse to implement Tory cuts and keep our libraries open. The message is simple: leave our public services alone and make the banks and corporations pay for the mess they made of the economy.

“We’d like as many people as possible to join the Hands Off Sunderland Libraries Facebook group, sign the online petition and attend the forthcoming public meeting.

“Together we can pressure our councillors to do the right thing.”

If the ruling cabinet approve the report on Wednesday, the plans will be put to a second stage of consultation, before being finalised in September and rolled out mid-October. At a scrutiny committee meeting, Councillors Christine Shattock and George Howe claimed the plans were already “cut and dried”.

“The proposals are really draconian,” added Coun Shattock. “Just to save what is a drop in the ocean.

“We are not a business, we provide a service to the public and we should struggle to keep providing these services.

“This is going to be very, very upsetting and alarming for a number of people in Sunderland.”

However, Neil Revely, Director of Health, Housing and Adult Services, said: “I’m disappointed if anyone thinks it’s cut and dried. I can honestly say that it is not.

“While there will be nine fewer library buildings as we know them, there will be far more library resources available to people.”

Councillor Robert Oliver, leader of Sunderland’s Conservatives, told the Echo: “There is an opportunity to do more with less in terms of developing digital software and hardware, and connecting libraries with other local services so that services support each other and increase usage.”

Speaking about the changes, cabinet member Councillor John Kelly said: “We probably wouldn’t have gone down this route had it not been for the fact we need to change how we do things as budgets continue to be cut and resources become ever more stretched, but we do believe the redesigned service will result in better services reaching more people across a wider range of locations.

“We’re looking to take library services into the places people go rather than expecting them to come to us, whether that’s schools, children’s centres, community centres or other community venues.”

The plans involve investing £500,000 in IT upgrades and refurbishments, and the introduction of an ebook service.