Hope for Norfolk libraries, but cuts fear hangs over museums

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All Norfolk’s libraries should remain open despite the need to find tens of millions of pounds worth of savings in the running of services, a committee has been told.

But proposals to cut services at several of the county’s museums have also been published ahead of a key county council committee meeting next week.

There have been fears in recent years that the facilities could be at risk amid the continuing squeeze on local government finances.

But, a working group set up to look at the future of the county’s 47 library buildings has concluded all of them should be saved from the axe.

The group’s report said: “Libraries are ideally placed to become community hubs and provide not only the physical infrastructure, but the learning support that individuals will need to access a wide range of services.”

However, the group added that savings could still be found by introducing more self-service technology.

They claim that could also help to make the buildings more accessible to other community groups.

The recommendation has been published ahead of a meeting of Norfolk County Council’s communities committee next Wednesday, where it is set to be discussed.

As previously reported, all council departments are being asked to plan for the implementation of funding cuts of up to 25 per cent over the next three years.

As part of that work, the committee will also be asked to look at plans that, if implemented would see seven of the 10 sites run by the Norfolk Museums Service, including Lynn Museum, re-classified as community sites.

That means the site would only offer basic opening hours and self-guided educational visits, with an expected fall in visitor numbers and a loss of community programmes.

Three, the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse, and the Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life, would be classed as major sites.

Officials have also warned that such a cut would also require a fifth of the county’s Trading Standards staff to be made redundant and a cut in opening hours at its record office.

Committee chairman Paul Smyth said: “The damaging combination of diminishing resources and a growing demand for services means we face an unprecedented challenge.

“I acknowledge at the outset that it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reach the levels of savings we have been asked to achieve without there being a significant impact on services.

“However, the committee must consider changes it might be able to make across the many service areas it has responsibility for, but I would stress that no decisions or firm proposals are being made at this stage. These are ideas for discussion and debate.”

Formal recommendations will be made next month and are set to be followed by a public consultation that will run until next January.