‘No interest’ from community in running Sunderland libraries or other services

Monkwearmouth Library
Monkwearmouth Library
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ZERO interest has been shown in a much-heralded scheme that would give Wearsiders the chance to run council services.

Not one person has applied for the ‘Community Right to Challenge’ scheme which challenged people living in the city to take over local services they think they can run differently – and better.

Councillor Robert Oliver

Councillor Robert Oliver

Between June and August this year, the scheme invited voluntary and community groups, charities and parish councils the chance to bid to run services like libraries and children’s centres.

Yet, despite Sunderland City Council often coming in for heavy criticism of the management of projects like the Vaux site and the defunct iconic bridge project, no group has registered interest in any of the services up for grabs.

The council today said they did not know why there had been no responses.

Any service currently provided by the council, either directly or on its behalf, was up for grabs, with only some NHS-run services and those commissioned to help individuals with complex health and social care needs exempt.

Councillor Robert Oliver, leader of Sunderland Tories, said: “There have been some good examples in other parts of the country of this type of thing working.

“There is a library in Gateshead which is now run by the community very successfully.”

Earlier this year, the Echo revealed how Sunderland City Council was axing libraries in Doxford Park, Easington Lane, East Herrington, Fence Houses, Hendon, Monkwearmouth, Silksworth, Southwick and Washington Green, in a bid to save the authority £850,000.

However, council bosses said they would be happy to discuss any expressions of interest community groups might have in taking over the services at the threatened libraries.

Coun Oliver said: “I think the lack of interest is most likely down to a lack of funding and time.

“A lot of people are happy to be volunteers at places but something like this would require a massive amount of organisation and a huge time commitment.

“This type of thing often only works if there is a real strength of feeling about it.”

The scheme was approved by Sunderland City Council’s cabinet as they were legally obliged to by the Coalition Government’s Localism Act.

Following its launch, Independent Sunderland councillor Colin Wakefield expressed concern about the plans.

He said: “The track record of the Localism Act is not good. It seems to have been a knee-jerk reaction to things, and it’s far from clear what benefits there are from it.

“One of the problems with privatising services is it ends up with people on the lowest wages and the minimum number employed while services end up being cut and cut.”

If an expression of interest had been received, it would have been considered by Sunderland City Council, who would then have the power to accept or reject it.