South Tyneside libraries have fallen victim to “salami-slicing” by the Goverment, says a leading charity.
The Library Campaign, a national charity, says that further cuts to stretched library services is “like taking a hammer to a wall that’s already full of holes”.
In real terms, libraries in South Tyneside were £60,000 worse off in 2017-18 than they were in 2016-17, according to financial data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Laura Swaffield, chair of the Library Campaign, said that years of cuts have led to councils “salami-slicing” libraries, by cutting opening hours, employing less skilled staff and allowing them to be run by volunteers.
She said: “Libraries are being hollowed out so much that people have forgotten what a library should be.
“For the last 30 years, libraries have had more than their fair share of cuts, so making further cuts has a disproportionate effect.”
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “Against a background of cuts from central government, we have had to adopt news ways of delivering library services for local people.
“We have invested in new library facilities at The Word, National Centre for the Written Word and at Hebburn Central. These facilities are multi-faceted buildings combining a range of services where residents can access information and advice as well as books.
“In addition, local volunteers have come forward to take over the running of our branch libraries. These groups can secure their own funding to build on the traditional library model and make the libraries ever greater assets for their local community.”
An online petition for a ring-fenced library grant, which would protect library funding from being spent elsewhere, was rejected by the Government earlier this month despite attracting more than 30,000 signatures.
In its response, the Government said that its policy was to continue “giving greater funding flexibility to local authorities”.
But the Library Campaign said that this is “just one example of how cowardly and cynical central government is, leaving it up to the council to make whatever cuts it likes”.
Miss Swaffield said: “Having a ring-fenced grant would help, but what would really help is to have a government that gave a damn about libraries.”
A spokesman for the The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said that £1billion of extra funding would be made available for local government to “address pressures on their needs”.
He said: “Local authorities are responsible for their own funding decisions, but over the next two years, we are providing councils with £90.7billion to help them meet the needs of their residents.