As we continue our journey of difficult choices in the face of severe and ongoing government cuts to our budget, I’m confident we are being guided by the right priorities. Rather than saving buildings and assets we are working to protect frontline services and safeguard children and vulnerable adults.
A good example of this is the way we have successfully retained and improved the much loved and valued libraries service while reducing its costs by £1.5 million.
Two years ago Tameside Council launched a radical redesign so that we could have a high quality service which met people’s needs but remained affordable. Wifi and e-books are just two of its many modern features.
Some of our libraries have moved to new and more accessible locations. Mossley Library is now in the single-level George Lawton Hall, only a very short walk away from the old Wyre Street site. Hattersley Library has reopened in the bright and modern Hub on Stockport Road. Both have enjoyed a significant increase in usage since relocating. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
We have retained a library in every district assembly area despite having to close five smaller branches. At the same time, we have created a comprehensive service with new technological features and more community involvement.
Denton West End Library is a fantastic case in point. It has reopened as community library and centre thanks to the involvement of volunteers. Elsewhere, old buildings have been adapted to provide other much-needed local amenities. The former Newton Library is being rented by a chemist and Hurst Library has been converted into a day nursery.
The libraries service continues to evolve and move forward as we ensure it remains efficient and fit for the future.
Hyde Library will soon move into new state-of-the-art facilities at the near-by town hall. This will release the Victorian Union Street building, which has become costly to maintain. At the same time it is helping to secure the future of the town hall which dates back to the 1880s.
Bringing more services under one roof is a simple and effective answer to protecting the services that matter most. It also cuts costs and makes our most prestigious buildings viable.
I am proud that, unlike some authorities, Tameside is facing up to the issues. It is taking brave but forward-thinking and necessary steps to save valued services even though the Government has cut our budget by a third with more reductions to come.
What’s more – as the libraries redesign demonstrates – changes can rejuvenate services and help them to thrive.