Cuts to West Sussex’s library service budget approved

West Sussex's mobile library service has been axed
West Sussex's mobile library service has been axed

West Sussex has no plans to close any of its libraries but it will reduce the opening hours at some and cut its mobile service completely.

Following a public consultation, members of the cabinet approved the plans, which will save the county council £175,000 and come into effect in April.

Four of the county's main libraries at Horsham, Chichester, Worthing and Crawley will close an hour earlier during the week

Four of the county's main libraries at Horsham, Chichester, Worthing and Crawley will close an hour earlier during the week

The loss of the mobile service did not go down well with everyone but Duncan Crow, cabinet member for fire & rescue and communities, said some of the alternatives – hinting at the risk of closure for some of the smaller branches – were ‘quite unpalatable’.

He added: “All things considered, the fact we do need to make savings and we’re not closing any front-line services, I think this is the best way to go.”

The council has two mobile services, covering Bognor and Horsham, though both of its vehicles have been decommissioned after failing their MOTs.

Of the 36 library buildings in the county, four – in Crawley, Horsham, Chichester and Worthing – will close at 6pm rather than 7pm from April.

This would account for £55,000 of the savings.

Mr Crow, who recently opened the new library in Burgess Hill, added: “We have seen many of our neighbours having to close libraries and remove their mobile library service.

“I’m very pleased we haven’t closed any of our libraries and we have no plans to do so.”

He told the meeting that the mobile service accounted for only 1 per cent of library customers and there had been a 27 per cent drop in use since the last review in 2011.

There were concerns about the more vulnerable and isolated members of society not being able to access library services.

Mr Crow said they would be offered alternative options such as the Home Library direct service and even the use of tablets.

A report to the cabinet said the aim was to work with parish councils to take on volunteers who would deliver books and act as reading friends as part of that service.

Labour leader Michael Jones was not happy about the loss of the mobile libraries, asking: “It is a fantastic service so why are we cutting it?”

His suggestion that smaller vehicles could be bought to keep the service going received no support.

Jacquie Russell, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “We have a duty to make the best use of taxpayers’ money and to acquire a brand new mobile library vehicle or two would cost more than £100k each to deliver 16 hours of library service.”

Looking at the impact on library staff, the report said one of the mobile drivers had already left the council but the other would be made redundant.