ST HELENS Council’s leader says a decision that could lead to the closure of six libraries is arguably one of the most "difficult" choices senior local authority figures have had to make.

The future of a number of libraries is under serious threat, as part of plans to transform the service.

The Labour-run council’s cabinet approved the adoption of the borough’s library service strategy and the implementation of the delivery plan 2022-2027 at its meeting on Wednesday.

Council leader Cllr David Baines highlighted the tough decision facing members.

But he suggested the situation could have been worse.

'Some people were in favour of one library'

He highlighted that "some people were in favour" of having just one library in the entire borough which he was "strongly against", which is why that plan "did not come forward".

He said: “This is arguably one of the most difficult decisions that we’ve ever had to make.

“Item five today, we heard about the financial monitoring report and we’ll hear in the next quarter the same story, and the quarter after that and the quarter after that and the quarter after that until we get a different Government.

'Stretched to the limit'

“Every single aspect of council services have been stretched to the limit, are stretched to the limit.

“There’s not a single bit of activity that the council does that isn’t impacted by those pressures – and we continue to face tough decisions. None tougher than this, certainly, on today’s agenda.

“But there’ll be other tough decisions next month and we continue to try and find new opportunities as well, for example items 11 and 12 on today’s agenda, so there is good news there that we are trying our best.

“The fact is the council cannot do everything it once did, there’s an argument as well that nor should we.

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“We saw during the pandemic where communities stepped up and the community organisations, parish councils, who were outstanding, they did fantastic work, businesses, schools and everyone.”

Reduction in number

The current library service includes 13 libraries – although Billinge Library, on Main Street, is temporarily closed due to the condition of its roof and floor.

The council says the findings of consultation and engagement exercises have been considered and are reflected in the final library strategy and delivery plan.

These include the relocation of St Helens Library to a refurbished Gamble Building, making it a “state-of-the-art cultural centre”.

However, the report confirms that the council proposes to reduce the number of library buildings to seven.

It states the council welcomes contact from any prospective partners to discuss support required to deliver a community managed library.

But should no community partners be “forthcoming” to support the delivery of community managed libraries, the council says “it may be necessary” to close the remaining buildings from October 31 2022.

In the event that no community partners come forward, the libraries proposed to close on that date are Billinge Library, Garswood Library, Parr Library, Peter Street Library, Rainford Library and Rainhill Library.