MOBILE libraries in Devon have been axed as budgetary pressures outweigh community efforts to save the service.
Rural communities had been particularly vocal in their bid to urge Devon County Council to maintain the service, outlining its importance to vulnerable people in isolated communities.
A petition to save the four mobile libraries had secured more than 9,000 signatures, including those of famous local authors Michael Morpurgo and Michael Rosen.
But Councillor Roger Croad (Cons, Ivybridge), cabinet member for public health, communities and equality, said he had decided to make the ‘very sad decision’ to recommend the closure of the service based on the decline in usage and its ongoing cost to the authority.
A report said the council spent £217,000 a year on mobile library running costs.
To appease campaigners, it announced a £25,000 transition fund to help vulnerable mobile library users, and an additional £15,000 for community groups and parish councils to apply for small grants to facilitate local community library development.
It was also agreed not to decommission the libraries until February next year.
Questions were asked about what would happen to the predicted £18,000 the council could get from the sale of the libraries, but the response was that issue would have to be dealt with by the relevant finance committee.
Cllr Croad said: ‘We just cannot afford the mobile service any more.
‘It has had its day and it has been really good, and a lifeline for many of our rural communities, but we need to find alternatives.’
He reiterated that in his 14 years in charge of libraries, it still had 50 static sites in spite of the budget dropping by a third since 2009, showing how the county had ‘worked very hard to retain them’.
Members of the public at the meeting raised the issue of whether the council had sought potential partners to help fund the service, including through grant funding or private businesses, such as banks.
Cllr Croad said this had not been done because the four mobile libraries would need replacing regardless, at a predicted cost of between £600,000 and £800,000, and he did not think external funders would cover this.
The meeting heard the library service in Devon offered other solutions that isolated residents could use, such as receiving books by post, or allowing neighbours to collect books for them through its Good Neighbours Membership.
But various councillors highlighted that the most vulnerable users might not use the internet, either through a lack of experience or poor broadband.
Cllr Alistair Dewhirst (Lib Dem, Ipplepen and The Kerswells), who chairs the corporate infrastructure and regulatory services scrutiny committee said the most vulnerable would be the biggest losers.
He said: ‘The people most affected and who will end up with no service will be the most vulnerable, the infirm, very old and very young.
‘Our council seems to spend more on fewer and fewer people, and the vast majority of council tax payers see less for their money, and people in rural communities are doubly disadvantaged.’
He also queried how far the £15,000 from the Growing Communities Fund would go once it was broken down by community, and suggested the cost of replacement mobile libraries could actually be spread over several years to make it more affordable.