HALF of Bolton’s libraries could be shut as part of savage cuts over the next four years.
Town hall officials have laid out in detail their savings plans for adult services and the museum and library service, as part of wider cuts being demanded by the Government.
And while they must wait until the outcome of a review of the entire library network before making any decisions on the libraries’ future, council leader Cllr Cliff Morris is warning residents to brace themselves for the worst.
He said: “We have 15 libraries across the borough and that could realistically be cut to seven or eight strategically placed around the borough.
“Some of the buildings where the libraries are need lots of money spending on them and we just don’t have that kind of capital.
Cllr Morris said: “We have to look at every building and see which could be used for more than one service, like we have in Little Lever.
“At a stand-alone library we have to employ at least two people because of health and safety rules about lone working, even if there is only enough work for one person.
“By combining services in a building, it helps to cut the staff costs and of course the building would be occupied longer which would reduce the risk of vandalism and such things.”
Another example of dual use is the existing central library and museum, which will be re-branded as The Crescent and will see longer opening hours as an integrated building.
More immediate savings, which have been approved by Cllr Elaine Sherrington, Executive member for adult services, at her member meeting this week include a restructure of the merged libraries, museums and archives services — which could see up to 25 jobs axed.
Funding for 15 posts runs out in March, 2011 so those staff will be under threat while a further 10 staff are also being consulted on how the changes will affect them.
Cllr Sherrington said: “As many of the library and museum service’s costs are in staff, there will be a significant reduction in posts across the museums and libraries service, however we will be mitigating the impact of these reductions wherever possible by encouraging staff to take early retirement or voluntary severance.
“We will be consulting with and communicating regularly with all staff, unions, customers, residents and partner organisations to manage the impact of these reductions fairly and aiming to minimise the impact on front line service delivery wherever possible.”
Cllr Morris says the council has also had to take tough decisions when it comes to the care it provides to vulnerable adults.
In a bid to cut the budget — which is the single largest spend across Bolton Council — the authority is consulting with staff, service users and carers over plans to reduce its eligibility criteria.
This means up to 73 people who currently receive “moderate”
care will have their needs picked up by the private and voluntary sector.
But Cllr Morris said: “We are committed to looking after people and we will want assurances from other care providers that the people affected will receive the kind of care they need before we implement these changes.
“It is disappointing for us because these are areas we have always protected from cuts but the current Government’s plans means we can no longer offer that protection and the most vulnerable people in society are the ones being targeted.”
The council is also looking at drawing up a new social care system which will give those in need a bigger say over how their personal budget is spent with the private and voluntary sectors again picking up some of the work.
Cllr Sherrington added: “All proposals will be implemented over a two to three year period and will involve extensive consultation with staff, unions, service users and their carers, service providers and partners.”
Cuts to environmental services, childrens services and the council’s regulatory services are due to be approved by the respective Executive members in the next week.