YORK’s ruling Labour administration has responded with fury to a letter from the directors of the city’s independently-run library service asking for it to be spared from council cuts.

The letter, sent to every city councillor in York and signed by Explore York chief executive Jenny Layfield on behalf of her board of directors, urged the authority to ‘exclude reductions in library services from your budget proposals’.

The letter said the library service had already been hard hit by inflation and price hikes.

As a result, Explore’s 100 staff had received only a ‘modest pay increase, significantly below inflation and comparable salaries’, the letter said.

It added: “This has impacted staff morale, retention, and recruitment. The ongoing uncertainty over our contractual income is likely to lead to material uncertainty in our status as a going concern.”

But the letter has provoked a stinging response from the council’s Labour executive, which has accused Explore of showing ‘disregard for precarious council funding’.

York Press: Explore York chief executive Jenny LayfieldExplore York chief executive Jenny Layfield (Image: Stephen Lewis)

Cllr Jo Coles, Labour’s executive member for wellbeing and adult social care said: “No one wants to make any cuts to any budgets. Our libraries are brilliant.

“But after 14 years of cuts to local council budgets, it is only fair that we look at all the contracts and services the council funds. So far, York Explore have not seen any reductions.

“So, it is deeply disappointing that they seem to be more focused on stepping into political territory than in looking at how to make this work.”

York Press: Cllr Jo Coles, York council's Labour executive member responsible for librariesCllr Jo Coles, York council's Labour executive member responsible for libraries (Image: Supplied)

The council’s ruling Labour executive announced last month that it needed to cut more than £14 million from its budget in the next financial year starting in April, as part of an effort to plug a projected £40 million black hole in council finances over four years.

It says if it fails to do so, it risks being landed with a Section 114 notice - which would effectively freeze council spending.

As part of the savings, the administration has proposed cutting £300,000 from Explore’s budget in each of the next two years – meaning that after two years, the library’s service’s annual budget would have been slashed from £2.6 million to just £2 million.

Explore is an independently-run mutual organisation which runs 15 libraries and the city archives under a 15-year funding contract with the council.


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That contract was signed in 2019 – so has ten years left to run.

The proposed funding cuts would therefore mean the city’s library service stood to lose £5.7 million over the remaining lifetime of its funding contract.

Explore says that, since it has a contract with the council, the authority cannot just cut its budget without Explore’s agreement.

In their letter to city councillors, Explore directors described the library service as a ‘York success story’ which has received national recognition.

York Press: York Explore central libraryYork Explore central library (Image: Newsquest)

They say Explore is ‘sensitive to the current challenges of the City of York Council’ and would ‘continue… to work in partnership with you.’ But they add: “As Directors, we have a legal duty to act in the best interests of Explore, and we would not be able to agree to contract changes that would lead to Explore becoming financially unviable.”

Cllr Katie Lomas, the city council’s executive member for finance and performance, said York was ‘one of the lowest-funded local authorities in the country’.

She added: “No one wants to be in this position but 14 years of austerity and with £14.7 million to find in savings to our budgets this year alone, it’s simply unfair to ask other services in the city to shoulder all of this burden.”

The council's 2024/25 budget will be finalised at an Executive meeting on February 22.

Exec member should resign, say Lib Dems

York’s opposition Liberal Democrats today called on Jo Coles, Labour’s executive member responsible for libraries, to resign.

Cllr Darryl Smalley, who was the executive member for libraries under the previous Lib Dem/ Green coalition in York, said: “It’s clear that Labour did not undertake real consultation with York Explore, and these proposed cuts are causing huge worry for library users and staff.”

Referring to Explore’s letter to councillors, Cllr Smalley said: “For York Explore to send this desperate plea shows that the actions of the Labour administration have led to an irrevocable breakdown in their relationship.

York Press: Cllr Darryl SmalleyCllr Darryl Smalley (Image: Supplied)

“As the previous cabinet member responsible for York’s libraries, if I had received this letter, I would have resigned on the spot.

“It’s clear the only way to resolve this is for the proposed cuts to be cancelled and for a reset of the council’s relationship with Explore through a new executive member.”

The Lib Dems have organised an online petition protesting at the proposed library cuts, which has so far been signed by 2,700 people.

Cllr Smalley said: “The Labour council leader must now see what is now blindingly obvious to all York residents - picking a fight with our brilliant libraires will only end one way.

“Explore Libraries have the full support of the Liberal Democrat group and York residents - the 2,700 strong petition shows this clearly.”

You can sign the Lib Dem petition against library cuts at digitallibdems.typeform.com/library