A senior Labour councillor has accused York’s library boss of wading into politics after she defended the service from a proposed cut of £600K.
City of York Council wants to make the saving on its contract with Explore York as part of overall budget cuts of almost 10% – or £14m – needed to ‘ensure the council stays afloat’.
But the robust response of Explore’s chief executive Jenny Layfield has clearly infuriated the Labour executive, leading to a deepening rift between both parties.
Ms Layfield began by pointing out that the council has signed a 15-year contract with Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd. And that guarantees an agreed sum to be paid every year until 2034.
Now she has written to every city councillor to urge them “to exclude reductions in library services from your budget proposals”.
In her letter, she says that Explore York is a nationally recognised success story. It contributes “to almost every agenda that matters to your residents, providing time, experience and ideas to the cultural agenda, the learning agenda, the place agenda, the digital agenda, and the health and well-being agenda”.
She writes: “Despite inflationary pressures and rising costs, Explore has adeptly managed its budget by holding vacancies, utilising contingencies, reducing discretionary spending (especially the book stock budget), and focusing on essential repairs.
“Due to soaring energy costs, staff received only a modest pay increase, significantly below inflation and comparable salaries.
“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.
“At present, our going concern status is based on an agreed and stable 15 year contract for services.
“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.”
‘We will not play games’
The letter has provoked an angry response from Labour.
Cllr Jo Coles, executive member for health & wellbeing, called York’s libraries “brilliant”, before adding: “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 in their budgets. 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.
“The changes we’re asking them to identify would mean about a ten per cent cut in the council’s contribution this year and next.
“That doesn’t mean services have to be cut by that amount, Explore’s fundraising, cafe income and grants could all help to mitigate the change.”
In her response, executive member for finance Cllr Katie Lomas said she would “not play games” with the city’s finances.
She said that “York is one of the lowest funded local authorities in the country”.
Read the letter
And with another £14.7m in cutbacks needed to save the city from bankruptcy “it’s simply unfair to ask other services in the city to shoulder all of this burden.
“We are absolutely committed to delivering a balanced budget so that York keeps control of its finances.
“Not taking the council’s financial situation seriously puts us a step closer to a 114 notice which would mean all council services would be cut to the statutory minimum level.
“We will not play games with the council’s budget, our services are too valuable to the people of York.”
The council’s 2024/25 budget is due to be finalised at the budget meeting on 22 February.