CUTS to the budget for libraries in West Berkshire of almost 40 per cent over the last decade are a “tragedy” according to opposition councillors. 

Figures obtained from a freedom of information request show West Berkshire Council spent £1,879,000 on libraries in the financial year 2010-11, while only budgeting £1,432,000 this year. 

This is a budget cut of 39.6 per cent, taking into account inflation.

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Councillor Carolyne Culver (Green, Ridgeway) said: “It is a tragedy that spending on our libraries has dropped by such a significant amount. Libraries are vital for lifelong learning and social interaction. 

But the council has claimed the budget cut was an opportunity to refocus the library service. 

Peta Stoddart-Crompton, spokeswoman for the council, said: “The council reduced the budget for libraries in the financial year 2016-17 by 44 per cent, and it has not been reduced further in the subsequent financial years and there are no plans to do so in the next financial year.

“The reduction in 16/17 provided the opportunity to re-assess the service and tune it to meet actual needs. Far from impacting negatively, it has refocussed the service and enabled devolution projects that offer diversity and direct benefits to communities.”

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Ms Stoddart-Crompton gave the example of giving ownership of the Hungerford Library building to the local community, as well as recruiting almost 300 volunteers.

She said: “The result of these changes is that we are bucking the national trend of declining usage with a five per cent increase in usage compared to the previous year.”

But the cuts in West Berkshire are well above the national average. Across England, Wales and Scotland, library budgets have decreased by almost 30 per cent over the last 10 years.

That’s according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, whose annual survey showed 800 libraries have closed since 2010, recently reported by the trade magazine the Bookseller.

Cllr Culver said: “If the government wants to make this a happier country to live in, it could start by reversing the devastating cuts to public services made over the past decade.”